Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Bells are Ringing

Bells Are Ringing
Friday November 19th at 8pm

So there were no "pre-show" cocktails to be had this week! :-(
I was invited by our friend David (who recently won 2 Emmys for his editing at NBC!...mazel tov Meshpucha!), to be in the VIP section of the pre-taping for the Christmas Tree Lighting at Rockefeller Center-With Live Performances by Mariah Carey, and Annie Lennox!...unfortunately, Miss Preggers Mariah was 2 1/2 hours late, and I was NOT about to miss "Bells Are Ringing" with my bestie Carlos! (sorry Mrs. Nick Cannon...next time!)

You know the expression "things can change in a New York Minute"? It is the idea that in NYC things move and change so fast that you can hardly recognize them anymore.
This can definitely be a said about City Center Encores, in past years the "Encores" series was known as a quickly rehearsed "concert version" or "staged reading" of long forgotten musicals, this is not the case anymore. While the cast can still be seen carrying black binders, which we can only assume contain their script though I barely ever saw a cast member read from it, every other aspect of "Bells Are Ringing" just screams "fully fleshed out Broadway Revival!"

With amazing staging and choreography, by the now inimitable Kathleen Marshall-of 'The Producers' fame, and an all star cast including; Tony Nominee Kellie O’Hara, Will Chase of 'High Fidelity' sad face emoticon, Dylan Baker, Judy Kaye, Bobby Canavale, David Pittu, Brad Oscar, and the adorably identifiable voice of David Hyde Pierce, the much loved (and in my opinion UN-forgettable) 'Bells Are Ringing' gets new life.

O' Hara is perfection in the comic tour-de-force role of Ella, originated by Judy Holliday-not to be confused with Jennifer Holiday-'and I'm telling you!, with the comic timing and "Lucille Ball"-esque physicality this young diva exudes she gives us all hope for the future of Broadway! Chase, whose smooth, and peppy vocals, and his Sinatra-meets Mad Men- dapper sexy style, is a great match for O' Hara. When the two team up to perform “Better than a dream” with its haunting yet uplifting harmonies they create an exhilarating duet, a duet cut from the 1960 film. Add to this duo, a fabulously funny cast of quirky kooks, like Pittu as Sandor, the bookie turned Austrian music aficionado (massacring the German language-"Lybe-shin!"), Oscar as a dentist who composes songs on the air hose, & Cannavale as a second rate Brando impersonator (but hella sexy!), and this slapstick, mistaken identity, love story becomes a fairy tale.

The subject matter is a bit dated, for example Ella works at "Susanswerphone", a phone answering service--before the days of cell phones, or even answering machines. There are some songs that could have been re-orchestrated, or even cut, Mu Cha Cha!...ugh for lack of a better example, but for the most part this show remains timeless.

Both Carlos and I agreed that this show is definitely on the fast track to a Broadway revival/transfer.

On a scale of top, bottom, or versatile, I give Bells Are Ringing a "Submissive Top"...give it a little direction and motivation, and ride that party train all the way home!
See you on the Boards!
-Rhett Kalman

Bells Are Ringing
Friday, November 19, 2010

So humming "Just in Time" my industrious little co-writer Rhett bounded up 55th street, as usual with only minutes to spare before curtain. Rhett had a busy evening he had been attending a pre-taping of the Christmas Tree lighting at Rock Center with performances by Annie Lenox and Mariah Carey, thanks for the Invite David you little pisher (just kidding, congrats on your Emmy's) Needless to say there were no pre-theater cocktails which was not sitting well with me, but oh well one gets by.

So we made our way into the theater, I have to admit I was surprised by how cheap our tickets were, they were $20 dollars each, and I soon found out why they were so cheap. I found this out when I entered the first balcony and the lady took a breath in and asked "Honey you want the stairs or the elevator?" I opted for the stairs.

I went to appropriate stairwell and the young lady said “that will be 5 flights up”.
"Excuse me?" I replied,
"5 Flights up baby" She replied

So I began my trek up, about half way I made base camp, I had wondered why there were sherpa's for hire next to the bar in the lobby, and it was then I realized I should have hired one. So at dawn with a fresh oxygen tank I made it to the summit, and realized I still had one more flight to go to get to my seat, d'oh! After taking my place on the aisle and trying not to look down the almost sheer vertical drop towards the stage, I noticed an out of breath and laughing Rhett shaking his and saying to me "this is what $20 tickets gets you." So we settled in, but not comfortably into our seats and we scoped out our move to better seats after the first act. What! You know you have done the intermission seat switch!

So curtain up, light the lights, and cue the orchestra.

Bells Are Ringing, Lyrics and Book by Betty Comden and Adolph Green with music by Jule Styne. Takes place in late 1950's New York City and tells of the story of Ella Peterson, who works at "Susanwerphone" a telephone answering service, this good hearted busy body plays, matchmaker, guidance counselor, and all around helpful Hannah to the lovelorn, jobless, and friendless. Pining away for a voice on the other end of the phone Ella dreams of Mr. Plaza 0-4433, this tale spins out of control as mistaken identities, an investigation by the feds and a clandestine book making enterprise threatens to send them all up the river.

With such catchy tunes like "Just in Time", "The Party's Over" and "Long Before I knew You", these songs have since become a part of the American Standards songbook. Comden and Green transport us to a much simpler time where there were no cell phones, voice mail, or facebook, and phone numbers had names instead of numbers. With their wit and banter the characters come to life regardless of what decade this show is performed. I find some of the reviews of this show a bit condescending to New York audiences by suggesting it is to outdated and that most of the audience would not understand the references. I beg to differ, granted the audience I was in was of a generation or two older than myself but the story is still universal boy and girl meet fall in love, miscommunication they looses each other for a short bit but all is reconciled in the end. I like to give audiences the benefit of the doubt and to be honest, how many times can we see Cat on a Hot Tin Roof or any other specifically time stamped production?

Tony nominee Kellie O' Hara is joined by Mad Men handsome Will Chase, along side Judy Kaye, Jack Doyle, David Pittu, and the handsome Bobby Cannavale, to bring us a show that had all the trappings of a "Stage Reading" but delivered a ready for Broadway Production. The sweet vocal styling of Ms. O'Hara and her ability to effortlessly command the stage as a slap sticky Red-Head, then turn on a dime to become that vulnerable person who is looking to love and be loved is a talent that not many current actresses on Broadway can pull off. I have not had the pleasure of seeing Mr. Chase in other productions other than this one, but I was very impressed by his voice and from as high up as we were I think he looked handsome, maybe I should Google his picture and see what he looks like. I had waited in anticipation for the second act to hear one of my favorite songs, "Just in Time" and I wasn't disappointed by it, but there was one duet that I had not anticipated. "Better than a Dream" was so hauntingly beautiful and so well sung and the arraignment of the music and lyrics, shows that they don't write songs like this anymore. What is interesting is that this song was added about two weeks into the initial 1956 run, but was cut from the 1960 movie. Why they would cut this song is beyond me, maybe Dean Martin and Judy Holiday couldn’t pull it off? Who knows?

What makes a show great? Is a complex question a lot of factors are involved, book, music, lyrics, lead cast, ensemble, back stage help etc. No show can really be good without the workings of the other parts, and this show has something magical going for it, it has it all and for me the main stand out besides the lead characters is the supporting cast, I can't say enough about the ensemble of this show, this was a really tight group and their voices blended so well and really took on the sound of the music. Broadway shows of the 1950's have a unique sound to them and it is hard to replicate that, so I must give my hats off to Mr. Rob Berman for pulling everyone together as Music Director. I must say thank you to City Center for continuing the Encores program, because without it we would loose the heritage of our theater past.

Rhett and I agree that this should be fast tracked to a run on Broadway, it is a Hell of a lot better than that piece of crap Bye Bye Birdie that dared to pass itself off as a revival.

So on a scale of Top, Bottom or Versatile I give this show a "Versatile Top" the kind of show that you can take home to mom, but in the bedroom watch out.

See ya on the Boards

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