John Wilson Conducts Oklahoma at the 2017 BBC Proms, Rouben Mamoulian Howls In Protest from His Grave, 2

John my bonny, if we ever sit down someday and have a natter like two old friends I’d tell you how much in common you have with The Old Man, which you’d better take as a compliment, because Rouben Mamoulian was a genius. I didn’t think so when I worked for him, but then I was only 23 and he was 81, and the only movie I knew of his—besides The Mark of Zorro with Basil Rathbone and Tyrone Power, which I remember from TV as a kid—was Queen Christina, the result of cinema art-house hopping in New York in the mid-70s, and which had a special place in my half-lesbian heart on account of The Divine Garbo.

CXG Oklahoma

The most subtle reference ever to Agnes De Mille that was clearly about Agnes De Mille without having to mention her name was on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, season 4 episode 2: “So now they’re randomly doing ballet?” “I guess so, it’s hard to follow.” (Hip-hop follows.) “That’s not even the correct dance language for this piece.” Bay Area-born Vincent Rodriguez III is the hunk in the red neckerchief who plays Josh Chan, heroine Rebecca Bunch’s pinoy love interest. Above: The 2019 Broadway revival version of Oklahoma! re-orchestrated by the estimable Daniel Kluger.

But like I said earlier, I was already familiar with the fact that Mamoulian had directed Carousel and Oklahoma! on Broadway. So when he finally started to chat me up more familiarly, after a few weeks of my just coming in every weekday morning and answering his phone, opening his mail—unpaid bills, media people from all over wanting interviews, a few lines from old friends like Armina Marshall…Paul Horgan…Pamela Mason…Ray Bradbury—balancing his checkbook, reassuring Zayde on the intercom over and over that Henry their handyman hadn’t gone home yet etc etc, and basically fooling around during the many dull spots in the day (which is how I ended up playing the Waltz from Carousel to myself on the actual legendary Richard Rodgers piano), it was easy to follow The Old Man’s train of thought because I already knew a lot about the original production of Oklahoma!

“You know, Agnes…” he started right off the bat one day, and we both immediately understood who he was referring to: Agnes De Mille, the choreographer for the original 1943 production.

I sat up attentively, pen in hand, ready to take dictation. My main duty for Mamoulian was supposed to have been as amanuensis for his memoirs, after all. At least that’s what the temp agency had told me. Although they didn’t say amanuensis.

“No, put your pen down and listen!” he ordered. He was, in the weeks and months to come, going to say that a lot.

So I did.

Part 1 “The Rodgers Piano” here.
Part 2 “The Eugene O’Neill Story” here.


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John Wilson Conducts Oklahoma at the 2017 BBC Proms, Rouben Mamoulian Howls In Protest from His Grave, 1

It was a late morning about six weeks into my work assignment and The Old Man hadn’t arisen yet, so there I was in the salon with nothing to do except quietly wait for his appearance and his orders for the day (which letters to answer, which bills to pay, which people to call, etc) before getting down to the primary purpose of my being there, which was, in the agency’s words, “to assist Mr Mamoulian in the writing of his memoirs”. None of that memoir writing actually did transpire in the nearly nine months I was with him, other things did, but let’s not jump ahead. Unsupervised, I was forbidden to handle/read books from his voluminous library, but you know what? He never expressly told me not to play the piano, that big black shiny intriguing baby grand in the middle of the room, and I couldn’t resist. Could you?

Richard Rodgers Piano

There wasn’t a sound coming from any part of the house, although I could faintly hear Henry the daily handyman moving his wheelbarrow out in the yard. I’d had enough of examining in painstaking detail the boring watercolors and Russian icons on the wall. I sat down on the bench.

Sense memory kicking in… At that point it was the closest I had gotten to this humongous piece of furniture. I remember the smooth feel of the wood as I ran my fingers on it, gently lifting up the fall board to get to the keys. The piano was a Steinway. That is, I remember it as a Steinway, because I don’t remember it not being a Steinway. I put the fingers of my right hand down in place and began, ever so softly, to tap out the first tune that came into my mind, which happened to be the waltz from Carousel. Three, four bars in I thought I heard a rustle from the back of the house and stopped cold, put the fall board down and stood up.

This was the first time my eye was caught by something on the right side of the music rack, some sort of writing actually carved into the wood of the music shelf that lay flat in the cabinet of the piano. It was in cursive—and it was a name:

Richard Rodgers

It still gives me goosebumps to remember I actually did that. When The Old Man finally did get up an hour later, I was sitting back at my desk in his alcove-cum-office, pretending to read one of the cheap Hollywood magazines I brought to pass the time, although my mind was still on the bars I’d played and where the bars were going musically, and I think I was humming. I must’ve been humming. Because as he came into the alcove I heard Mamoulian exclaim, “Hey, that’s from Carousel.

I looked up. Caught! I was about to apologize when he spoke again, this time it seemed almost wistfully. “You know, I directed that.”

I said softly, as if it were an apology, “I know.”

At that moment our relationship started to take a different turn.

[more later]

Part 2 “Agnes De Mille” here.
Part 3 “Eugene O’Neill” here.


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A Rodgers & Hammerstein Moment 2: John Lithgow Sings “Oklahoma!” to Jane Curtin, with a Little Help from John Raitt

…and the entire cast of down-home diner customers, who all know the words. From season 1, episode 12 of 3rd Rock from the Sun, first aired in 1996.

3rd rock sings oklahomaYou mooks again, in case you missed it above, HERE’s the clip on YT.


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At the End of the Year 2020: An Open Letter to My Beloved Conductor John Wilson from His Sentimental American; Complete John+JWO BBC Proms 2010, 2011, 2012 & 2017; Plus Some Lady Porn

Happy 2021, my darling Local Low Fell Lad Made Good. I just tried getting on your management’s website for you (johnwilsonconductordotcom) to check for your January gigs when I was sent to the sinister Your connection is not private page, which perturbs me a bit as it sounds like the server might’ve been hacked.

[Sorry, have to go be with Mister Grumble for a while. More later, promise.]

[2 Jan 2021 14:20] Later. I’m back, dear. Glad to see that fixed, for now. Mister Grumble and I had a date to listen to what I just found on YT: the 1978 NYE Grateful Dead concert from The Closing of Winterland—you know, the one where [legendary band manager] Bill Graham glides down to the stage on a giant lit joint (as I described it to my blind angel which he recognized at once)—and really, it was a great night, or so the Mister tells me. The Mister is the one who turned me on to The Dead, back at our old commune in San Francisco.

But here I go rambling on about American things when I’m sure what you really want to hear is how you made out in 2020. Well honey, as you know, you did fine with your recordings on the Chandos label: Your 2 Korngolds, the symphony and the violin concerto, your Respighi, and the French dudes. I’m sorry you couldn’t conduct Tchaikovsky in Chile (sharing the same time zone with you would have been pretty cosmic), but you did “save” The Turn of the Screw at Wilton’s Music Hall, and that’s très chic.

Here is what I took away from you in 2020 (besides that perfect screenshot and your gracing me with your attention on St Crispin’s Day and the aforementioned recordings):

And speaking of the Proms, pardon me, my love, while I do some Fan Service for your fans :

[making dinner now, Bavarian-style pork chops with sauerkraut and boiled potatoes; I’ll come back to wrap this up as soon as I can, promise]

[6 Jan 2021 14:21] Okay, now that I’ve served all your wonderful fans around the world, let me have my say.

The BBC Proms 2017 semi-staged production of Oklahoma! pissed off 3 people I care about even though one of them is dead: Mister Grumble, a proud Oklahoman, who hated to see this nuanced Sooner tale turn into some weird English panto; original 1943 director Rouben Mamoulian, who even though dead howled in his grave at your dismissive use of his name in promos, oh, and for perpetuating a “mistruth” about him and his artistic relationship with Agnes de Mille; and me for two things: one, your use of the Robert Russell Bennett orchestration (which was never meant to play to a room the size of the Albert) instead of the film orchestration (by Bennett+Courage+Sendry+Deutsch) which, if I remember rightly, you actually used in your 2010 show for the last number, “Oklahoma!”, and it was gorgeous; and two—Marcus Brigstocke as Ali Hakim!!!??? Who the hell at the BBC was responsible for that whitewashing? And why didn’t the UK press call the Beeb on it? (I mean, if you’re all going to be hoity-toity over Maria in West Side Story…) Now, I can lay the former at your door but maybe not the latter, as the Beeb seems to have gone off its rocker on its own… But c’mon.

But let that pass. What really impresses me about my lust for you is that it started me on the road to thinking about The Old Man again. And actually, really, I should thank you for that. Mamoulian ought to be remembered—not for being a cranky old has-been, but for having directed some classic pictures and classic stage musicals like, you know, Oklahoma! I knew him. Our minds matched. That there was some weird man-woman friction going on between us toward the end makes no difference. It fries me how little regard he gets nowadays, even in the film buff world. So, ultimately, there’s no rancor on my part toward you re Mister M. (As a matter of fact, I think I’ll work out all my mental stuff about Mamoulian in a mystery one of these days.)

But now my love, here’s the last item and I hope I can finish it before I have to go in to make dinner.

Okay. Here’s the connection between you and Mamoulian, and it has nothing to do with you as a musician. It has to do with that damn full dress of yours.

[nope, stumbling around to finish this; maybe La Dietrich can help me out…]

RAMAbove John conducting the 2017 BBC Proms in sweat-soaked silk shirt: The Allegro from Tchaikovsky’s 6th played by the RAM student orchestra conducted by the man I’ve fallen in love with.


*Actually, 5 that evening, but this is the first one was the one that made me want to find more things that featured you. The others: a fragment of you doing “Laura” in Birmingham; then with the JWO the MGM Overture in Leeds; the third was of you doing a bit of Vaughan Williams’s 2nd, again with the CBSO. The 5th was Friday Night Is Music Night from 2005. When you played Captain Kangaroo you made me completely yours.


UPDATE 11 JAN 21: JOHN! JOHN! HERE’S MY ANSWER, VIA STEVIE NICKS…



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Fanfares (Chandos, 2018), an Album by Onyx Brass, Conducted by John Wilson

A recent article mentioning John in 4barsrest, an online publication that serves brass instrumentalists, reminded me of the fact that I never did get around to listening to and writing about my beloved conductor’s recording with the Onyx Brass, which I bought 2 years ago this month. I am listening now.

John Wilson & Onyx Brass 2Church of St Jude on the Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London, where the Onyx Brass rehearsed and recorded this in 2017. Above John: Malcolm Arnold’s “Railway” Fanfare, my personal favorite. NOTES for Fanfares (Chandos, 2018) can be found here. There is no other instrument in a symphony orchestra that calls attention to the manmade-ness of its actual sound than the horn. Strings can mimic the human voice; woodwinds the sound of wind in the trees; percussion can conjure up a hail storm… But you tell me, can the sound of human lips vibrating a piece of metal sound like anything but what it is?

Well, two years makes a difference. I fell in love with John two years ago 2018, that spring. That summer of 2018 was The Bernstein Summer. The summer my beloved John tried to oedipally murder Leonard Bernstein before an arena of cheering thousands; the summer I finally heard on YT his Proms Oklahoma! from 2017 with Mister Grumble, and having to end up apologizing to my Oklahoman husband the rest of the year; but more importantly, this was the summer I decided to try to make as comprehensive a chronology as I could of John’s musical paths, as evidenced by the dates of live performances whether videoed or not, radio broadcasts, album recordings and so forth. In this way I hoped to be able to follow him on those various paths, perhaps to be rewarded, even if only for a moment, with hearing music as he hears it, or perceiving if only for a moment what he feels when he conducts. So when I bought Fanfares, it was not a completely whimsical purchase. When I read later on that, a few months after he recorded with Onyx at St Jude’s, John went on to tame the raucous festival orchestra of Circus Roncalli at their New Year’s show in Berlin, I knew I was on the right track.


So this is what I garner from John’s travels in brass. His Newcastle/Gateshead working-class background stands him in good stead in this field; as it’s in the north of England, among the factory and mine workers who were also dedicated amateur instrumentalists, that the uniquely British form of brass ensemble was not simply allowed to grow and thrive, but achieve such a high excellence of sound and musicality that concert composers were, and continue to be, attracted to write works for it, e.g. this ravishing masterwork by Scottish-born composer Peter Graham for the 165-year-old, 28-piece Black Dyke Band of Yorkshire.*

It was in and around groups like these, as a percussionist, as well as in amateur musical pit orchestras, as a conductor, where my beloved John Wilson as a teenager got his start, and where he first developed his “ear”.

Which brings us back to this collection of Fanfares played by the London-based Onyx Brass, or to be more accurate, the Onyx Brass 5 plus 6 friends. In this trailer @00:24, John gleefully declares his pleasure at hearing such a rich clear loud sound (“shatteringly loud” he laughs, “a thrilling sound”) from such a relatively small chamber group. A little brass does go a long way.

The album is a tribute to the impressive range of John’s genuine knowledge of the repertoire. The selections are grouped under each of the 15 featured composers, themselves grouped very loosely by era.  If one listens seriously and openly to the entire record—there are 58 cuts—even an absolute neophyte to the field of British brass might be able to discern qualities in the music itself that distinguish traditional British music in general: for instance those certain intervals I talked about in “The Pure Joy of St Trinian’s and The Inn of the Sixth Happiness by Malcolm Arnold” that suggest stability, cohesiveness, and “rightness”. This is the music of pageantry.

John begins the collection with famed Master of the Queen’s Music, Arthur Bliss, near the top, and the Onyx Brass does his “God Save the Queen” with the reverence and swelling pride it deserves. Tuneful Arnold, who played first trumpet in the BBCSO, is well-represented here (see above); as are Albert Ketelbey, Arnold Bax, Frederic Curzon, Eric Coates, etc etc. But the real gems come from Imogen Holst (Gustav’s daughter, 1907-1984) with her “Leiston” Suite (1967); Elisabeth Lutyens with her typically odd but compelling Fanfare for a Festival (1975); Michael Tippett with the “Wolf Trap” Fanfare (1980); and yes, Joseph Horovitz, my beloved John’s composition teacher at the Royal College of Music, with his “Graduation” Fanfare No 2, which debuted in 2013 at the graduation ceremony of the Royal College.

Each of these later pieces may stretch the definition of what a fanfare actually is, but all of them contribute a superior musicality to the brass repertoire. John’s championing of these works—particularly Holst’s suite, which deserves to be included in general concert programs—shows me not only where his heart is, but also his head. And John Wilson’s head is something that’s been on my mind for the last two years.

*A brief look at the score excerpt of Graham’s “Metropolis 1927” will give you an idea of how large and fully-complemented a British brass band can be.


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John Wilson and The John Wilson Orchestra at the BBC Proms, the Royal Albert Hall, 26 August 2013: The Complete Concert of Hollywood Rhapsody Including “Casablanca”

Disappointing to hear that John won’t be doing Britten’s The Turn of the Screw at Wilton’s Music Hall in London this month. So, to cheer everybody up, here’s the full 2-hour program of my John and The John Wilson Orchestra at the Proms, 2013. That’s Jane Monheit, John, and Matt Ford below.


DAMN! UPDATE 16 JAN 21: Both DailyMotion and BiliBili have DELETED this video of the complete BBC concert! If I find it again I’ll reinstate the link. (Links to selections available on YT are in red.)


As a compensation, here are ALL the other, complete JOHN WILSON AT THE BBC PROMS available on my blog:


John Wilson Orchestra BBC Proms 2011 (Monheit, Ford)

The full program of 2013 (with remarks as they come to me):

  • 20th Century Fox Fanfare (from the studio, 1933) / Alfred Newman
  • Street Scene (from the 1931 film; Sam Goldwyn/United Artists) / Alfred Newman
  • “Confetti” (from Forever, Darling; MGM, 1956) / Bronislaw Kaper Just wish that this really delightful period piece weren’t associated with the stupidest cinematic use of James Mason (a fine English actor and fellow cat-loving chum of my old boss, Mamoulian) ever concocted and omigod—is this one of the pieces you reconstructed, John? Pleeease tell me, whenever you and I keep that date at the Metropole (the one in Gateshead).
  • Laura (suite; from the 1944 film; 20th Century Fox, 1944) / David Raksin Compare to John’s concert in Glasgow in 2011.
  • Psycho: A Narrative for String Orchestra (from the 1960 film; Paramount) / Bernard Herrmann
  • Salammbo’s Aria (from Citizen Kane; RKO, 1941) / Bernard Herrmann (with Russian soprano Venera Gimadieva)
  • The Adventures of Robin Hood (YT / audio download here) (from the 1938 film; Warner Bros) / Erich Korngold
  • 25-MINUTE INTERVAL In which my beloved John, at 41 years back in 2013, pours out his hopes and dreams.
  • The Big Country (from the 1958 film; United Artists) / Jerome Moross
  • Casablanca (suite from the film; Warner Bros, 1942) / Max Steiner, Schneckenburger, Wilhelm, de Lisle, Herman Hupfeld
  • SONG MEDLEY (YT):
    – “An Affair to Remember” (from the 1957 film; 20th Century Fox) / Harry Warren, Leo McCarey (the film’s director), Harold Damson
    – “Something’s Gotta Give” (from Daddy Long Legs; 20th Century Fox, 1955) / Johnny Mercer
    – “Young at Heart” (from the 1955 film; Warner Bros) / Johnny Richards, Carolyn Leigh
    – “It’s Magic” (from Romance On the High Seas; Warner Bros, 1948) / Jule Styne, Sammy Cahn
    – “The Tender Trap” (from the 1955 film; MGM) / Jimmy Van Heusen, Sammy Cahn
    – “My Foolish Heart” (from the 1949 film; Samuel Goldwyn/RKO) / Ned Washington, Victor Young
    – “Three Coins in the Fountain” (from the 1954 film; 20th Century Fox) / Jule Styne, Sammy Cahn
    – “Love is a Many-Splendored Thing” (from the 1955 film; 20th Century Fox) / Sammy Fain, Paul Francis Webster
    – “That’s Amore” (from The Caddy; Paramount, 1953) / Harry Warren, Jack Brooks
    – “Que Sera, Sera” (from The Man Who Knew Too Much; Paramount, 1956  / Jay Livingston, Ray Evans
    – “All the Way” (from The Joker is Wild, 1957; Paramount) / Jimmy Van Heusen, Sammy Cahn
  • A Place In the Sun (suite from the 1951 film; Paramount) / Franz Waxman
  • Tom and Jerry (YT) (from the MGM cartoons; 1940-58) / Scott Bradley
  • Ben-Hur (suite from the film; MGM, 1959) / Miklós Rózsa

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West Side Story In Concert Performed Oedipally by John Wilson and The John Wilson Orchestra at the BBC Proms, 2018; Lovingly by the San Francisco Symphony Conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas, 2013

A few postings ago (“On Conductor John Wilson’s Full Dress and The First Porn Movie I Ever Did, 1”) I said, “I’m in love with John but he plows through Gershwin like a bull moose and treats Bernstein like Bernstein’s Saruman and he’s Frodo.” Well…he was pretty respectful in his “Highlights from Candide” Proms show in 2015, and I have faith that somehow, somewhere during The Bernstein Year (2018) my bonny got through “The Age of Anxiety” with a clear conscience. But the crowning glory of my beloved John Wilson, Conductor‘s relationship with composer Leonard Bernstein is supposed to be, by his own estimation, West Side Story, which he claims he’s conducted “a lo’, I’ve done a few complete productions of it”—so he should know what it’s all about, at least musically, right?

But first, let’s get that other business out of the way concerning John’s WSS attempt of 2018. I HATE HATE HATE to see The Race Card being played. Usually I try to avoid having to address the issue but sometimes it’s right in your face. If you don’t know what I’m talking about you can read about it here.  Then read about the outcome here.

Know what I think? In the past few years I’ve begun to believe, and I’m probably coming late to this, that when Orwell was writing about Big Brother, he was really talking about the BBC. This is probably sooo evident to a lot of people, but I’ve been paying steady attention to BBC for only about the last ten years and I’ve watched it devolve in ways previously unimaginable to me, so highly did I once esteem this radio/TV/internet broadcaster. So when I tell you I suspect that it was the Beeb behind that inane shuffling of sopranos and no one else, I do have a basis. (But not to go into that now. I’ll get to it when I talk in detail about Oklahoma!—and The Race Cardagain.)

To get back to John, The John Wilson Orchestra, and West Side Story at the Royal Albert Hall, BBC Proms, 2018. Why the story above tells another possible story: One – soprano announces her withdrawal from the BBC Proms (that is, her reneging on her contract with the BBC) in April; two – five months later in August the new soprano is announced, a blatantly bogus attempt at more politically-correct casting, but anyway; three – at the same time, and only then, the show’s musical format is, for the first time in wide advertising, properly described as the official concert version. Which, let’s face it, makes the racial makeup of any of the singers totally irrelevant. Do you hear me squawking over Kim Criswell doing “Bali Ha’i”?

So in all this hoo-ha there’s John, who has absolutely nothing to do with the matter but nonetheless possibly, probably feels just a bit tainted by it, and who goes to his beloved orchestra with a “Gentlemen, ladies, let’s rise above this, shall we?” attitude, and a “Let’s give it all we’ve got!” kind of gungho-ness I last saw in Back to Bataan.

Because that’s how it came out in the music. Listening to the concert online, I got that same unsettling feeling you get some nights when you suspect your boyfriend’s unusually poundy lovemaking isn’t actually directed at you. It was almost unbearable to take. Even Mister Grumble left the room. Before leaving he pointed an accusing finger at me. “This is your John Wilson,” he intoned darkly. “He’s not mine,” I answered. “He belongs to England!” But I couldn’t pull off the Vivien Leigh delivery so that bit just died.

But you know, I think that’s the crux of the matter, my beloved John being English and a Geordie and therefore too pigheaded to truly understand the American idiom. That, and Big Brother Beeb breathing down your neck, can cramp anyone’s sense of freedom, freedom of course being the American idiom.

I’m assuming, of course, that John, vaunted musicologist that he is, truly wants to understand the American idiom.

Leonard Bernstein Hugs Michael Tilson Thomas

Of the 2013 concert, said Joshua Kosman in the SF Chronicle: “One of the great revelations of Thursday’s dynamic concert performance by Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony was just how remarkable the score sounds in isolation… Bernstein’s creation stood more or less alone as a compendium of all the musical references swirling around in that great musical clearinghouse that was his mind.”

Above Lenny and MTT: Quartet from the ground-breaking San Francisco Symphony concert version of West Side Story, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas, Bernstein’s true heir to the podium. Below: The Dance at the Gym sequence from West Side Story. Once again, MTT with the SFSO, 2013, who released the recording on their own label in 2014.

1 Blues | 2 Promenade | 3 Mambo |4 Cha-Cha | 5 Meeting | 6 Jump


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Selected List Popular

 

“You Make Me Feel So Young” Sinatra (Myrow, Gordon)
“I’ve Got Your Number” Peggy Lee (Coleman, Leigh)
“I Must Know” Peggy Lee (Hefti)
“Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year” Larry Hovis (Loesser)
“Beyond the Sea” JWO (Trenet)
“All the Things You Are” (Kern, Hammerstein)
“If Ever I Would Leave You” JWO (Lerner & Loewe)
“Goodness Gracious Me” Sophia Loren (Kretzmer, Lee)
“Oklahoma!” 2019 (Rodgers & Hammerstein)

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At the End of the Year 2019: Conductor John Wilson, Eugene O’Neill, and My Old Boss, Classic Film/Stage Director Rouben Mamoulian, 3

John Wilson, light of my life, fire of my loins. You’re a true musician, you command the finest magical mechanism Western Civilization has ever achieved, the symphony orchestra, and you do this for a living. All life is asking you to do is be cool with it, and the fact that I’ll be continuing to make love to you long distance indefinitely.

Now, there are more compelling subjects in the world of music appreciation (like was Mozart poisoned, or who was Beethoven’s Immortal Beloved, or should Concert A be tuned to 432MHz instead of 440MHz) than ranting about the inane and vaguely insulting blatherings on the podium of a popular, middle-ranking English conductor. But I happen to have fallen in love with that conductor. And so it’s probably the case that I listen to that conductor’s pronouncements a little more acutely, a little more discerningly than I would, say, Michael Tilson Thomas’s or Maestro Mauceri’s. It’s just that you reveal more about yourself in your out-loud asides than I think you’d prefer, John.

So as much as I’d relish taking the time to dress you down for the impudent and ultimately self-revealing remarks you made about Mmes Bernstein and Coates, I really should finally get down to the one single thing (aside, of course, from your tearass tempi, your overuse of percussion, your rushing of singers, your astonishing lack of color in certain critical pieces) that has bugged me since the day I first encountered it: your juvenile dismissal of my old boss, film/stage director Rouben Mamoulian, and his creative contribution to the original 1943 production of Oklahoma! Now, I know you were only riffing off info you got from some book or Andre Previn, who probably socialized with The Old Man when they were both at MGM. But, like I mentioned in an old posting, of all his stage and screen work The Old Man liked to talk about, the one he liked to talk about the most was Oklahoma! And I turned out to be his perfect audience, because early on I’d confessed to him that I was a big Rodgers & Hammerstein fan. (Filipinos are big Rodgers & Hammerstein fans, for obvious reasons.)

But before I say another word about Oklahoma! I have to tell you all now a side story about Mamoulian and Eugene O’Neill. It’s a doozy and it has everything to do with the point of this posting.

John and Mamoulian 2Rouben Mamoulian and John Wilson at around the same age, 80 years apart.

MAMOULIAN’S AND MY EUGENE O’NEILL STORY

This is the second story Mamoulian, The Old Man, ever told me, which he told me in a way that was flattering as hell, which was he didn’t ask if I knew who Eugene O’Neill was, although I did say “Wow” at the mention of the name, so he might have sized up my interest that way, and just went right into the story. Seems that when he was living an emigre’s life in New York, trying to make a go of it in stage work, he scored his greatest career triumph to date: The Theater Guild wanted him to direct a play by Eugene O’Neill. Now, O’Neill had already won the Pulitzer and he’d already had several successes, not to mention his other new play, Strange Interlude, was already generating a lot of pre-opening night buzz, so we’re talking King of 1928 Broadway here. O’Neill agrees to meet Mamoulian in his hotel room (that is to say, O’Neill’s hotel room. It seems like the best stories about O’Neill take place in hotel rooms) to talk over any directorial concerns O’Neill, the playwright, might have, and if he has any advice to give this youngster concerning his play.

“Actually, Mr O’Neill,” says Mamoulian, trying to sound like himself at thirty, you know, the brash but confident whiz-kid, “I know exactly how to fix your play.”

“You will change not a word. Not a word!” says O’Neill. And here The Old Man doesn’t bother to actually imitate O’Neill, although in time I heard him do some good impressions of other people, mostly actors.

“Look here, Mr O’Neill,” says young Mamoulian, opening the bound script of Marco Millions that he brought with him. “I can show you exactly where the speeches slow the play down, and where we can achieve the same ends using action. Here—” And here The Old Man imitates taking a blue pencil and boldly slashing a diagonal line across a rejected page like editors do— “—and here—” He goes on to recreate his turning the pages of the script one at a time— “and here—here—here—” with a slash! slash! slash! And all the time I’m thinking with a kind of growing horror: You CUT Eugene O’Neill!!!?

“But in the end,” Mamoulian assures me, “he saw that I was right, and we got along splendidly.”

But that’s not the end of the story. About a year after Mamoulian and I go our separate ways, I get a chance to attend opening night of Marco Millions at Berkeley Stage Company up in the Bay Area, as the plus-one of some guy I was seeing. This was around the time BSC was on its “classics” kick, making it clear in news and ads and publicity sheets that this wasn’t just any old O’Neill revival, this was an extra-special homage to the master playwright of our great theatrical heritage. Scenes cut from the 1928 production had been restored in order that this fruit of O’Neill’s genius be presented intact and full; Mamoulian’s name was hardly mentioned.

Well, I watch this big lumbering thing, right through the parts that dragged on and on with their interminable speeches about the redistribution of wealth and so on, and I’m thinking, this must be where he cut, here— Then here— And here  And almost like he’s whispering in my ear “See? See?” I realize that The Old Man was right to make the cuts, and that Marco Millions probably could have been a fine piece of theater if they’d stuck to the original opening night version.

But I swear, it was not on my mind to argue this during lobby talk after the curtain. The big thing on my mind was that I had the perfect story to share at this particular time, in this particular space, and yeah, I wanted to share it. I was with the guy who brought me, a cokehead freelance lighting designer who was always hitting up people for jobs. Together we went up to the artistic directors, a married couple, my date immediately starting in with the whole buttering up thing, you know, You look fabulous what have you been doing to yourself, etc etc etc.

I break in with something like, “You know, I have a great story about this play I got straight from (and here I made sure to stress the second syllable like he preferred) Rouben Mamoulian and how he worked with—”

And here the guy, my date, takes me aside and mutters as urgently but tenderly as is possible for him, “Sweetheart, would you please shut up while I’m talking business.”

Reader, I did.

So everyone, this is the first time—the very first time—in forty-one years I’m telling this story.

And you, Tom Stocker. Just for that, I regret having given you the most explosive blowjob of your life, the one that made you howl like a wolf.

Part 1 “The Rodgers Piano” here.
Part 2 “Agnes De Mille” here.


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Conductor John Wilson and Rodgers & Hammerstein; Sting Sings His Newcastle United Football Anthem, “Bringing the Pride Back Home”

I started collecting these Moments after getting right annoyed, not when I first heard my beloved Geordie lad John Wilson cheerfully dismissing Oscar Hammerstein II’s lyrics as being “needless”, not after the 2010 BBC Proms (an R+H tribute) or even the 2017 BBC Proms (Oklahoma! for God’s sake), but later on when I read about John in Brighton trying to conduct a sing-along with his concert audience in “You’ll Never Walk Alone” the way Liverpool soccer club fans like to sing it when they’re winning—a song cue I HATE HATE HATE and would like to strangle the group responsible, Gerry and the Pacemakers, for.

John Wilson Crush SunderlandCrush Sunderland! Above John: Sting sings his 1998 song for Newcastle United, “Bringing the Pride Back Home” Now tell me, why is the whole world staring? / Must be the shirt I’m wearing / Black and white army…


The rule for bringing up a Rodgers & Hammerstein song in a Moment is simple: You sing it spontaneously—knowing the words and understanding and conveying its sentimental message—at the right moment. You have to read the moment, John. In the Jack Benny scene the humor is clear because everybody knows the words to “Getting to Know You” and everybody knows about Jack’s musical vanity vs his excessive courtliness toward pretty talented women; in the Cheers scene, Diane’s song cue is truly meant to comfort and inspire, and so makes for a genuine moment for characters and audience together; in 3rd Rock, well, “Oklahoma!” is just the ultimate rouser. You don’t even have to sing it well. (So a much better sing-along song actually.)

So it kind of heartens me, John, that you won’t be going back to mangling The Great American Songbook for awhile. Here’s hoping you take a long vacation in Bermuda, my Tyneside darling. Get a tan, get laid. And when you come back, commit yourself to the orchestral repertoire you do best.


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