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Sunday, November 21, 2010


It was a musical theatre-filled week for me.  In addition to seeing Les Misérables: The 25th Anniversary Concert, I also had an opportunity to attend both Daddy Long Legs (music and lyrics by Paul Gordon and book by John Caird) at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts and Randy Newman's Harps and Angels at The Mark Taper Forum.

I don't know about all of you, but the idea of a new musical is as exciting as it is a little unsettling.  When I see a new show, I really want to like it.  I try to go in with an open mind and attitude with the hope of finding joy in new (or experienced) writers and composers and the mark they will make on the American musical theatre landscape.  I mean, if it were not for producers and audiences embracing new writers, there would be no Next to Normal, In the Heights or websites like New Musical Theatre (NMT) (which supports, celebrates and embraces the work of new writers by giving them a place to distribute and promote their music/sheet music).  These two shows have brought me new joy and appreciation for the modern musical and I have discovered countless composers and the most gorgeous of songs because of  NMT.  So it is safe to say that in regard to Daddy Long Legs and Harps and Angels...that I wanted to like them.

(l-r) Marla Schaffel and James Barbour
Back in 1999, Jane Eyre the Musical had its out-of-town tryout at San Diego's La Jolla Playhouse with music and lyrics by Paul Gordon and book by John Caird - the same team that gave Daddy Long Legs its er...feet.  By then, I had long been a fan of both Charlotte Brontë and Jane Eyre (the novel) and the idea of a musical about Jane and Mr. Rochester sounded perfect.  I wish it was.  In short, the show (in my opinion) was slow, dragging and could not hold my interest.  Though it eventually made its way to Broadway and garnered a Tony nomination for best musical, it wasn't my cup of tea because it was literally so dark, the music wasn't the most memorable...etc, etc.  Despite how I felt about Jane Eyre the Musical, I hoped that Daddy Long Legs would be more appealing.

It was.

(l-r) Rob Hancock and Megan McGinnis
...but it wasn't.  I thought the score was beautiful and to hear it sung by Megan McGinnis was a treat for anyone who has the pleasure of attending the show.  Truly, her voice is so beautiful and her energy is so perfectly suited for the role of Jerusha Abbot.  McGinnis as Jerusha is bright, charming, inquisitive, thoughtful and has a light and appeal that draws the audience member into Jerusha's life.  Every letter Jerusha sent to Jervis Pendleton (performed by Rob Hancock) unfolded a new layer into the story being told and as a result brought new insight to the two characters - it was well thought out, but slow and perhaps took up too much time setting the foundation for the story.  Thus, the show was long.  Over two hours long.  24 songs sung by two actors (mostly by McGinnis) spanning a four year period.  I must admit, that after the opening number, I found myself feeling restless and a little bit bored...but by intermission I felt more invested in the life of Jerusha and the intention behind Jervis' lies.

I can't say that I was head over heals in love with Daddy Long Legs, but I did think it was time well spent at the theatre.  The story was an interesting one to tell and makes total sense as a musical.  I hope that at some point, Paul Gordon and John Caird tighten and focus the story just a little bit because while good, it has the potential to be even better.

*     *     *

Randy Newman
As a lifelong Angeleno, I have always known of the song, I Love L.A. and realize that it has become our town's anthem.  That song was my one of my first run-ins with Randy Newman's music. I Think Its Going to Rain Today was my second.  His music always stayed with me because it is so deep and meaningful in a way that I didn't quite understand upon first listen, but the moment I needed it the most, I know exactly where to retrieve it.  I never forgot a single one of Newman's songs that I've heard whose lyrics really touched me and I don't imagine I ever will.

The one comment I hear, read and believe myself is that nothing about Newman's music is simple.  Every lyric is complex and intwined with such emotion that gets to your core and your heart.  Newman's music has definitely been an anthem during various phases of my own life in which I have listened to it over and over and somehow it gave me peace or comfort.  One of my personal favorite songs of Newman's is Real Emotional Girl and through this performance, discovered the song Feels Like Home which I now absolutely love.

(l-r) Katey Segal, Matthew Saldivar
I hesitate to call Harps and Angels a revue, because to me, that suggests a kitschy collection of music, skit and performance and this show is hardly kitschy.  Harps and Angels is more of a Newman song cycle but of music both popular and from film from the 1970s to present day in which the personal and the socio-political entwine creating a compelling, honest and humorous commentary on what it is like to be born, grow up, fall in love, and live and die in America.  The six person cast - Ryder Bach, Storm Large, Adriane Lenox, Michael McKean, Katey Segal, Matthew Saldivar - were a mix of talent with musical theatre, singer/songwriter and popular music backgrounds, all of whom delivered interesting and yet meaningful interpretations of Newman's songs.  In particular though, it was a pleasure seeing Segal perform - not because most people think of her as some iconic 80s sitcom character (its the last thing I think of) - but because she has such a beautiful voice and I have long been a fan of hers from a music perspective.

Its amazing that the Randy Newman lexicon is so diverse yet when the right songs are put together and the right singer performs them, these songs tell a story and sends a message (sometimes subtle, sometimes glaringly obvious) about life and Harps and Angels did just that.

Harps and Angels runs through December 22 at the Mark Taper Forum.

**If you get a hold of the Performances program for (I believe) any of CTGLA's shows (Venice at the Kirk Douglas, Harps and Angels at the Taper and NEXT TO NORMAL at the Ahmanson) in the month of November, check out page 28.  Yes, I am in the unexpected, so grateful!!!**


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