Started by scenicdesign71, Mar 16, 2023, 11:31 PM

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David, now that you've seen it, what do you think about the water feature in the show/path on the poster theory?  My take is that someone was really stretching and thinking far too much about the show.  But I've been in a little bit of a sarcastic mood this weekend so that could just be me.   ;)

Sorry to hear about the moving woes.  Packing and unpacking (la la la) is not as fun as one might wish it to be.  Not to mention the stress of finding a suitable place to live on a deadline.  
I no longer long for the old view!


Quote from: DiveMilw on Nov 05, 2023, 06:46 PMDavid, now that you've seen it, what do you think about the water feature in the show/path on the poster theory?  My take is that someone was really stretching and thinking far too much about the show.  But I've been in a little bit of a sarcastic mood this weekend so that could just be me.   ;)

Stretching and thinking too much about a show — who would ever do that??   :o

Yeah, no, the water/path connection, at least as far as the water in the show is concerned, doesn't add up -- as, the more I overthought it in advance, the more I pretty much suspected it wouldn't.  That was indeed a stretch on my part.

But I do remember seeing the poster art for the first time a couple months ago, and thinking -- well before hearing anything about a water feature in the show -- that cyan was an ambiguous color for the path.  Surreal, even:  if we assume it's a solid path, the color is conspicuously bizarre; but if we interpret it as a stream of water, it's behaving in conspicuously bizarre ways (it's walkable-upon, and it ends sharply at a drop-off over which not a drop spills).

But no, none of that bears any likely relation to the "waterworks" moment onstage (which is borrowed directly from The Exterminating Angel, released two years before Anyone Can Whistle).  In both the Buñuel and Sondheim/Ives scenarios, the water effect is neither (fake-)magical, like ACW's Miracle Rock, nor even particularly surreal, at least by the standards of this story's deliberately opaque narrative logic -- indeed, it's the almost grittily-naturalistic result of our desperately dehydrated captives busting into a wall to access a water pipe, which gushes forth to general (somewhat feral) jubilation.


...but, speaking of miracles, I won Here We Are's TodayTix lottery and saw the show again last night, from the second row of the center section, a few seats off the aisle, for a mere 25 bucks!  BWW's Richard Ridge happened to be seeing the show last night too (also not for the first time, I'd guess).

Oddly, the sound seemed more-distant and less-clear than it had a few weeks ago from six rows further back.  Which, given the abundance of rapid-fire dialogue and lyrical complexity, leaves me even more eager for a published script and an OCR than I already was; overall, I'm not sure I emerged with any more detailed understanding of the show after a second viewing than after the first.

But I did find myself agreeing with la Holdren more and more.  (The New Yorker's Helen Shaw, too).  The show itself is as fascinatingly imperfect as most of the Master's oeuvre.  The cast is flawless, and the production so coruscatingly smart and beautiful as to flirt with slickness.  Time will tell, but I wouldn't be surprised if some future staging like the one Holdren hypothesizes -- starker, less well-funded, perhaps more anarchic -- and unburdened by the irony-overload of this production's Hudson Yards setting -- were to make a sharper case for Here We Are as one of Sondheim's darker works.

Meanwhile, I still wouldn't rule out a third viewing.  And I do wish they would get an OCR out in time for the holidays, though that's starting to seem unlikely.


Nothing really new here, but, for what it's worth:

The Observer:   David Ives On Collaborating With Sondheim On His Final Work, Here We Are



With lyrics, helpfully if imperfectly transcribed (playlist here):

"Café Everything (Part 1)"

"Soldier's Dream"

"Final Song"


I somehow missed this one last fall, but it's well worth a read:

SlantStephen Sondheim's Final Master Class Is Small and Funny and Fine

Quote from: Dan Rubins, Slant Magazine, 23 October 2023Here We Are isn't unnerving in the spine-crawling way that The Exterminating Angel and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie are. ... But the show still moves from a frothily weird and wonderful first act to an opaquely heartbreaking second act that—as has been widely reported—offers almost no music at all.

What music there is, though, doesn't disappoint. Sondheim's score is decidedly within his most familiar vocabulary, a final master class in pressing music into the service of character.  As the recent revivals of Sweeney Todd and Merrily We Roll Along also demonstrate, one of Sondheim's superior gifts was his impeccable understanding of how the ear processes language.  Rhythm and melody, under his pen, allow the text to crash like a wave over us, somehow guiding the listener response so that everyone gets the joke at the exact same moment.

And because the scenario seems to hold these characters, at least for the first act, in a sort of satirical contempt, that frees Sondheim, who was so frequently accustomed to injecting irony into many a dissonant chord and slightly caustic melody, to write with often unadulterated warmth and buoyancy.

"[Sondheim's] impeccable understanding of how the ear processes language" is a phrase worth remembering.  But Rubins's writing moves from strength to strength in this article -- the extended quote above is just a sample, and there's plenty more to enjoy. 

In other news, one more belated holiday gift from my father arrived yesterday: Criterion's Blu-ray set of three Buñuel films including The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, to go with the Criterion Exterminating Angel I received on Christmas Day. 


From The New York Review of Books:

--------------------> (!!! EXTENSIVE SPOILERS BELOW !!!) <--------------------

Quote from: Hannah Gold,, Saturday 16 December 2023
Before Stephen Sondheim learned to read, he could identify records from his household collection by the particular shapes of the words on their spines.  At parties in his family's handsome Central Park West apartment, his biographer Meryle Secrest writes, "his parents would trot him out in the evenings to demonstrate this parlor trick" for the arty and ambitious circles they mingled with.  Imagine the splendid living room ringing with genteel applause, like the clinking of martini glasses that never overspill: already Sondheim was delighting crowds with performances poised at the juncture where music and words meet.

Reading, however, never became a great pursuit for the prodigious composer and lyricist, who brought a new set of themes to the forefront of musical theater: loneliness, ambivalence, aging, the process of making art, and remaining single well into one's thirties.  One of Sondheim's most brilliant and experimental musicals, Sunday in the Park with George (1984), deals in its first act with the life of the pointillist painter Georges Seurat and the creation of his masterpiece A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, then gallops forward in its second half to the painter's legacy in the 1980s.  Assassins (1991), a revue of successful and would-be killers of American presidents, features John Hinckley Jr. and Lynette Fromme singing "Unworthy of Your Love," which assumes the guise of a sweet duet (the kind typically sung by lovers to each other), but is in fact addressed to the public figures they're violently obsessed with—Jodie Foster and Charles Manson.  Sondheim was always keener on mixing bitterness with affection than uniting two besotted people.  In Company (1970), his signature musical about a chronic bachelor named Bobby, the protagonist's settled friend Joanne—she of the brassy demeanor and tedious husband—sings,

It's the little things you share together,
swear together,
wear together,
that make perfect relationships.
The concerts you enjoy together,
neighbors you annoy together,
children you destroy together,
that keep marriage intact.

All of these subjects were more closely associated with the novel than with musical theater when Sondheim got his start.  But he mostly abstained from reading fiction and poetry, although he did enjoy plays and the occasional detective story, since he loved, in addition to parlor tricks, puzzles of every form.  In interviews he attributed his scant engagement with novels to slow reading speed and a short attention span.  There were too many words in novels, and not all of them judiciously chosen, whereas for the lyricist every word must matter, but unobtrusively.  As Secrest writes, he learned early on from his mentor Oscar Hammerstein "that lyrics must not overtax the ear."  Sondheim's shelves were packed with foreign dictionaries in Romance languages, Oxford Companions to American and English Literature, rhyming dictionaries, and reference books for "quotations, proverbs, slang and modern English usage, acronyms, initialisms and abbreviations."  All the tiny, irregular puzzle pieces awaiting unity.

Rather than literature, the art form that had the greatest impact on Sondheim, from a young age, was film.  His knowledge was encyclopedic, especially of studio movies from the 1940s and 1950s.  According to Secrest, he was only able to recall the date of his mother's wedding to her second husband because it coincided with the day All About Eve opened at the Roxy.  He would have been eighteen at the time and his mother, "Foxy," was a Joan Crawford type with well-tailored appeal and a tendency toward sadism.

Sondheim welcomed success early, having written the lyrics for West Side Story (1957) in his mid-twenties.  (His comedic hit A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, which he composed and lyricized, opened on Broadway five years later.)  That success brought him into casual acquaintance with the silver screen glamour he'd long idolized.  His neighbor in the building where he bought an apartment after his first wave of triumphs was Katharine Hepburn, and he kept a piano in a soundproofed room upstairs lest the noise bother her.  He once dined with Grace Kelly and later privately faulted her for holding the menu too close to her face.  He and his high society friends sometimes played "Stardom," a boardgame he invented in which, he said, wannabe actors "fuck [their] way to the top."  Now he'd become the proverbial glass-clinker in the proverbial room, or the parties were held in his honor.

For the last several years of his life, as his health gradually declined, Sondheim worked, with a great deal of frustration, on a musical based on two films by the Spanish surrealist Luis Buñuel: The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972), about a group of wealthy friends failing to find a restaurant that will serve them, and The Exterminating Angel (1962), in which guests of a similar milieu find it existentially impossible to leave the dinner party they've attended.  The resulting show, Here We Are, opened earlier this fall at The Shed, in a room that in many ways reflects the tastes of the upper classes today: high above the ground, with a view facing inward.  To get there I passed an enormous new Spanish restaurant with fancy food-court airs and a cafe for cycling enthusiasts where an after-hours drinking event was underway.  Nestled within the phony corridors of Hudson Yards, both establishments looked more like concepts than places, and prepared me well—maybe too well—for the first act of Here We Are, which recounts its six protagonists' many failed attempts at fine dining.

The butler and maid have been polishing the minimalist, mirrored set for fifteen minutes when the brunch guests start arriving at the home of Leo and Marianne Brink, and the musical begins in earnest.  Leo (Bobby Cannavale) is a rude arriviste who's made a fortune itemizing credit derivatives, whatever that means; his ditzy, kind wife Marianne (Rachel Bay Jones) takes immense pleasure in the cadence of words like "soupçon" and "huevos rancheros."  Claudia (Amber Gray) "represent(s) a major entertainment entity" and wears her haughty girl-boss blazer draped over her shoulders like an ermine cape.  Her husband, Paul (Jeremy Shamos), is a plastic surgeon celebrating his thousandth nose job and a drug trafficker in cahoots with Leo and another guest, Raffael Santello Di Santicci (Steven Pasquale), who bears the farcical title Ambassador of Moranda as cover for his nefarious purposes.  The crew is rounded out by Marianne's sister Fritz (Micaela Diamond), who is hellbent on bringing about the end of capitalism, unless it involves dipping into her trust fund.  Each represents a certain kind of wealthy hedonist, dressed in a colorful costume that never changes (red velour tracksuit, blue silk nightie, and so on), like cartoon characters that turn up for every episode unfazed and unaffected by their pasts.  They are concept people, soon to be dining out at concept restaurants.

After arriving, the Brinks' guests are disappointed to learn that they weren't expected for brunch at all, but their hosts insist they pile inside the car and head to Cafe Everything, whose preposterously thick menus are like War and Peace for hungry people.  There, the waiter (played with excellent, upsetting panache by Denis O'Hare) systematically tells each of them, in song, that they are out of whatever it is they want.  "We have no Coke, / we have no Sprite, / we have no Mountain Dew, / no Fresca Lite."  From one unsatisfactory bruncherie to the next, there's a lot of elaborate ordering, occasionally punctured by Fritz's insurrectionary remarks and clandestine phone calls with a mysterious anticapitalist cell.

O'Hare plays all the male attendants and Tracie Bennett plays all the female ones, including the server at a French haute cuisine restaurant where everything "is what it is."  At yet another restaurant—Italian—Colonel Martin (Francois Battiste) shows up with his Lieutenant (Jin Ha), claiming to have traced the leaders of a drug smuggling conspiracy to this very joint, which seems to contain only drug smugglers and their spouses.  Certainly no food.  But this is an absurdist comedy in which anyone might casually be nudged off course, so the military officials pause their mission and join their suspects in search of gustatory delights.

Between these scenes the main characters travel with inscrutable purpose around a luminous white stage, posing and huddling at calculated distances from one another like chess pieces moving through a void.  They mostly sing about the beauty of the day, dining out, and, in the case of Fritz, everyone else's hypocrisy:

Marianne: What is happening to decent restaurants?
Leo: If it isn't the food it's the service.
Fritz: Didn't you hear?
Rafael: If it isn't the noise it's the queue.
Fritz: Are you insane?!
Paul: Or the backs of the chairs.
Leo: Or a waiter with airs.
Claudia: Or the long flight of stairs to the loo.

Eventually they arrive at what is to be the location of the second act (the one they can't leave, the "Here" in "Here We Are"), the Morandan Embassy, where David Hyde Pierce enters, playing a bishop with a shoe fetish who would like any other job, please, and delivers the most winning number of the evening: "Wouldn't anybody like to have their windows washed? Their sinks repaired? Their faith restored?"  No, no, and no.

In fact, Fritz has already procured funding for all the ammunition her comrades need to bring about the end of the world, and Raffael's butler, Windsor, is unmasked as Inferno (O'Hare again), a resentful leader of the revolution.  The first act concludes with the sounds of explosions and great flashes of light.  When the second act begins the ensemble is still at the embassy, in a living room furnished with bookshelves, cushioned chairs, and a chaise-longue.  They find, of course, that they cannot leave.  Also that the food supply is scarce, and their cellphones are dead.

Despite promising beginnings, Here We Are increasingly seems to become one with the stuffy, expensive rooms it emanated from.  It is all surfaces, but they don't connect much, and no larger achievement takes shape.  To draw a metaphor from Sunday in the Park with George, this is pointillism without enough points, so that the end product looks less like Seurat and more like the Damien Hirst spots that adorn the Brinks' glaringly white walls.  The upstairs-downstairs drama never really delivers a coherent critique or absorbing storytelling the way it does in A Little Night Music (1973), Sweeney Todd (1979), or Assassins.  Subplots are broached like the daily specials and abandoned in various states of warming up.  Raffael is having an affair with Claudia and eager to get with Marianne, who nonchalantly rebuffs him.  Coincidentally, Leo murdered Colonel Martin's father, way back when.  Marianne is trying to remember the thing she was supposed to do today.  The world is ending.

Buñuel's films are themselves meandering satires, but I'm tempted to attribute at least some of the show's diffuseness to the fact that Sondheim didn't finish it.  In several of his final interviews, he said that the second act remained a work-in-progress, and it was giving him trouble.  The show's production team has said that Sondheim gave them permission to go ahead with the project anyway, two months before he died, in 2021.  David Ives wrote the book and Joe Mantello signed on to direct.  Sondheim's frequent collaborator James Lapine told The New York Times in September, "I really trust David and Joe, and don't think they would be putting up something they didn't feel was finished."

Nevertheless, whatever trouble Sondheim thought he was having is reflected in the show itself.  The second act contains only two musical numbers and quickly peters out into platitudes that capture neither the contempt of Buñuel's films nor, as Helen Shaw has pointed out, the exquisite ambivalence one expects of Sondheim.  "What we are putting on stage now is as finished as any production about to play its first preview," the production team told the Times. "It's ready for audiences, and very much the musical Steve envisioned."  But it seems unnecessary, and a little dubious, for anyone to claim the piece in its current instantiation is finished—or could ever be finished in Sondheim's absence.  I can't fault the team for doing their best to punch up skimpy material; still, I found myself wishing the production had explored the show's lack of completion rather than politely ignore it.

As it is, the actors are bold, the set is easy on the eyes, the music is jaunty, and the moral is something something life goes on.  Until it doesn't.  Life is a cosmic hors d'oeuvre and art is a flattering commodity hung in a gilded frame.  The moments in the show's second act that best reflect Sondheim's sensibility, whether or not they originated with him, are those of irreverent philistinism, like when Marianne sings, "All these books / all these polished leather books / I don't mean to read / no no not to read / no I mean the way it looks."

In one of the final scenes set in the room, we find Marianne alongside the bishop, who is contentedly munching on some pages from A Tale of Two Cities.  It's been a while since they had decent food to eat, but neither seems particularly worried about it.  It's Marianne's birthday!  A light dusting of snow filters down through a crack in the ceiling.  The pair of de facto prisoners regard these falling flakes as a kind of miracle, a sign that goodness and hope are still possible in a ruined world.  To me they looked more like all the little irregular pieces that stay swirling about for some time in the aftermath of an awe-inspiring storm.



BWW:  Final Sondheim Musical  Here We Are  Teases Cast Recording

No release date given, but a studio photo, posted on the show's IG account yesterday, implies that the recording itself is done or at least underway.

:) :) :)

In other HWA-related news, today I won the show's lottery again, but was unfortunately unable to claim the tickets in time because I was in a movie theater with my phone off all afternoon, watching an impromptu double feature of The Color Purple and Wonka (a rather purple-themed moviegoing day, as a friend observed, though it turns out they've shifted Timothée Chalamet's younger Wonka more toward burgundy).  I hope whoever did end up getting those HWA tickets enjoyed the show more than I enjoyed the movies (meh:  I didn't not enjoy them, they were okay, but the whole outing was more an excuse to see my friend for the first time in several months.  Ironically, if I'd taken a raincheck on the movies and thus been able to respond to TodayTix today, I might have ended up seeing him very soon anyway -- at HWA: coincidentally, he happens to be seeing tomorrow's matinée).


The recording has been confirmed, though still without a release date more specific than "spring".

BWW's announcement includes this 30-second video clip:

On a tangent, HWA's David Hyde Pierce (delightful as always) will be back on Broadway next season, playing Major General Stanley in what sounds like an interesting new adaptation of The Pirates of Penzance also starring Ramin Karimloo as the Pirate King.  (Tangent on tangent: last year a YouTuber posted the full pro-shot 1980 Shakespeare in the Park production with Kline, Ronstadt, Rose etc., on which the 1983 film -- adding Lansbury for good measure -- was based).


My birthday is in spring. :)


Quote from: Naveen Kumar, Variety, 22 October 2023(FULL REVIEW HERE)

...Though Sondheim made light sport of critiquing bourgeois mores in shows like Company and Merrily We Roll Along, here the rich are served hot like a bottomless buffet.

And let's cut straight to the sweet stuff: Performances from the pinch-me-this-can't-be-real cast are like a Broadway gourmand's fever dream.  Whatever else this deeply strange and Frankenstein-ed musical delivers — which is a lot — the production's outrageous lineup of stars are as delectably odd as they've ever been (yes, even Denis O'Hare).  By the time David Hyde Pierce makes a late act-one entrance as a martini-swilling bishop who covets designer heels, the needle on one's pleasure odometer simply snaps off.

Never truer than last night.


In his (annual?) NYT cast album roundup last week, Jesse Green said that the Here We Are recording is scheduled for a May release.  Online, the article includes 30 seconds of "The Bishop's Song" as sung by David Hyde Pierce.

Green's roundup also cites the recordings of last year's revivals of Parade, Sweeney and Merrily; the London concert recording of Old Friends; and Melissa Errico's Sondheim in the City album, among others.  (Excerpts from each are also included online; Harmony is represented by the very track I would have chosen: not a group number for the Harmonists but a haunting solo for Sierra Boggess -- although, just as when I saw the show, a very fine song in an equally adept performance is just a bit dampened for me by its distracting final note).


Theatermania:  Here We Are Cast Recording to Be Released Next Month

Specifically (at long last): May 17 for CD & digital.

For the double LP -- in baby-blue vinyl, if you please -- one must wait until September 6.


BWW:  Pre-Order Cast Recording For Sondheim's Here We Are

This article includes the complete songlist, 27 tracks in all.

As a teaser for the album, the full 3-minute orchestral "Exit Music" track can be heard on Spotify, Apple Music, etc.; and also as a video (featuring footage from the recording studio, not the show):


The OCR was indeed released on CD and streaming today.
Its Digital Booklet — with liner notes by Ives and Mantello, plot synopsis and full lyrics — can be found here.

This video is dated over a week ago, but I only stumbled across it a minute ago:

In December the show was videotaped for the Lincoln Center Library Theatre Collection, whose curator Douglas Reside has compiled this career-spanning list of HWA's multitudinous echoes of SJS's previous six-plus decades of work:

Sondheim Easter eggs in Here We Are

Lots of viewers have enjoyed playing this game ever since previews began (and zillions more will undoubtedly now chime in after listening to the OCR) — some in order to justify their feeling that this is decidedly lower-tier Sondheim (a tired old man repeating himself, to un-mince their usually more delicate words), and perhaps that it shouldn't have been produced at all; others to hail the new work as a brilliantly self-aware, valedictorian summing-up of all that preceded it (and often, not incidentally, to flaunt their own knowledge of the oeuvre).  Both perspectives vaguely annoy me, if only because they tend to ignore the show's merits-on-its-own-terms, which I suspect might come to be regarded as considerable: Sweeney Todd and Into The Woods have nothing to fear from Here We Are in terms of critical respect or popularity, respectively; but I could imagine HWA settling in pretty comfortably next to Assassins and Passion.  Still, comparisons to SJS's earlier work can certainly be made, if that's what floats your boat; and, for what is essentially a listicle, Reside's essay is intelligent, well-written and respectful.

The score, and the cast, if anything come off even better in this recording than they did in the theater.  Minus visuals, and with just enough studio polish — and with no other audience, just listening by myself, which probably helps — the story's slippery tonal dynamics feel more persuasive than ever.  The music itself sounds gorgeous, and I'd HIGHLY recommend listening with decent headphones or earbuds the first time, to catch the vocal and orchestral nuances in what might at first seem like The Master's brashest score; while the unmistakable Sondheim-iness does at times sound almost like gleeful self-parody, in some ways I feel like he's legitimately outdone himself in terms of sheer verbal and harmonic intricacy.  The characters, despite being cartoons, seem both more horrifying (truly atrocious garbage people) and more recognizably human (which is all the more unnerving) when they're right in your ear rather than on a stage being evened-out by the common-denominator effect of a full post-pandemic audience whose determination to be entertained is heightened still further by the specific circumstances (as His last unfinished posthumous etc.) under which this particular show premiered.  And if the ending still hasn't quite been nailed, I think some future production might yet meet that challenge.  As brilliant as David Zinn's original designs were, I would certainly love to attempt this show myself someday.

According to a poster on Facebook's FTC group, U.S. regional and London productions are planned (though it's not clear whether any or all of them will replicate Mantello's NYC staging), and the latter could potentially be filmed for TV/streaming/cinecast/etc.