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Allen Smalling "Eclectic Reader," RSS Feed (Chicago, IL United States)
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Six by Sondheim
Six by Sondheim
Price: $19.98
17 used & new from $12.87

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An amazing overview of the Master and his works, September 19, 2014
This review is from: Six by Sondheim (DVD)
My friend Joe sent me this recent HBO documentary (directed by frequent Sondheim collaborator James Lapine) and it is wonderful. In this 86-minute video there are so many highlights that I can't mention them all, but some of my favorites are of Sondheim holding forth on various talk shows ca. 1970 in his first flush of publicity, vintage clips of Ethel Merman and Larry Kert, a generous montage of vocalists covering "Send In the Clowns," a goodish portion of MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG that appears to have been filmed for this documentary but edited to mirror the comments Sondheim is making, and also the original cast recording from COMPANY of "Being Alive," as sung by Dean Jones. But the star of the show is Sondheim himself: what experience has taught him, his seminal influences, the agony and ectasy of writing lyrics, and the fundamental role of teachers and teaching in his life. I've seen a fair number of bios, Q&A and making-of dealing with Stephen Sondheim's long and productive life; this may well be the best. Well worth the money, or as a present for the Sondheim aficionado in your life. Thanks, Joe!


Voice of the Xtabay
Voice of the Xtabay
Price: $12.26
61 used & new from $0.25

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Strange and Wonderful, September 19, 2014
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This review is from: Voice of the Xtabay (Audio CD)
Before there was "lounge music" or its spin-off Tiki, before folkloric music (therefore long before "world music") invaded American homes, even long before Julie Andrews sang "The Shady Dame from Seville" and other numbers in VICTOR/VICTORIA, there was Yma Sumac. Disregard the myth that she was plain old "Amy Camus" from Brooklyn; even though the palindrome holds, she was actually Peruvian, with classical training, and manifested a voice of nearly five octaves when young, over four of which have been recorded. This wonderful record is actually a combination of two 33 r.p.m.'s from the early Fifties, one under the direction of American Les Baxter and the other written and directed by her husband Moises Vivanco. One half of this CD has slightly better sound qualitiy than the second half but never mind, it WAS the early Fifties and this CD is so generous, so wonderful, so full of highly unusual rhythms played with utter virtuosity. And Sumac's voice! Wow! She can sing like a nosebleed soprano in Spanish or Peruvian dialect, take a breath and sound like her imaginary aunt the chesty contralto, another pause and she becomes the imaginary grandmother, a gutter singer strutting it after years of cigarettes and late-night clubs. While many if not most of the songs manifest a definite "jungle" motif (one cannot help but think of Martin Denny's "Quiet Village" at the end of the Fifties), there are's also a cha-cha, some thrilling guitar numbers, and finally a good-bye song ("Ripui") that SOUNDS like a good-bye song in any language. Try this album -- a very few listeners at this distance may find it a little weird, but considering how many aspects of this kind of music have filtered into other genres, you're more likely to find it enchanting -- and very well done.


Fade Out Fade In (1964 Original Broadway Cast)
Fade Out Fade In (1964 Original Broadway Cast)
16 used & new from $12.50

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best and unluckiest Broadway hit of the Sixties you never heard of, September 19, 2014
FADE OUT FADE IN was Comden and Green's attempt to do on Broadway for Thirties movies what they had done in the prior decade when their classic movie musical SINGIN' IN THE RAIN spoofed the silent-picture Twenties. They wrote the book and lyrics, Jule Styne provided the music, George Abbott directed, and the show starred Carol Burnett as starry-eyed Hollywood hopeful Hope Springfield, who became Lila Tremaine, silver-screen diva extraordinaire. The score on this CD is a knockout, an informed pastiche verging on burlesque not only of Depression-era musical styles and vocal techniques but even Thirties lyrics. Including cast members Jack Cassidy, Dick Patterson, Lou Jacobi, Tiger Haynes, and Tina Louise, FOFI's songs charmingly satirize stalwart-male singing a la "Stout Hearted Men," glamorous wedding-cake production numbers, cheery Astaire-like hoofing solos, tight harmonies, bluesy melodramatic torch songs, even a pseudo-Shirley Temple confidence builder with "Bojangles" Robinson (Tiger Haynes), singing laughably morbid riffs around the notion of "It could always get worse." This is all great fun, all under the aegis of FFF, a major Hollywood studio headed by nepotistic, lecherous Lionel Z. Governor (Lou Jacobi), whose fanfare is the "Seal (real animal) of Approval."

So what happened? Why aren't we as familiar with this winning show and its tunes as, say, those of HELLO, DOLLY or FUNNY GIRL? Well, the score is a winner but the show was a loser. Carol Burnett got pregnant and JFK was assasinated, pushing the production schedule from 1963 into 1964. Then, two months into the show, Burnett's neck was injured in a taxi accident and she had to take time off. Betty Hutton was hired to take her place but it didn't quite work and ticket sales fell off. The producers tried reincarnating the show in 1965, citing contractural obligations, but gave it up when it was realized it would never turn a profit. Along the way Tina Louise wound up making an unexpectedly long stay on an uncharted desert isle courtesy of CBS-TV, Jacobi honed his style in other productions, and Jack Cassidy and Carol Burnett wound up on CBS too, he in a disappointing sitcom called HE AND SHE, she in her own variety show that ran over ten years, and gave Burnett a chance to incorporate Hollywood send-ups as a regular, and delightful, feature of THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW.

This original cast album is not to be missed, whether you're a Comden and Green fan, a Burnett fan, a Thirties-movie fan, or just like to marvel at the tail end of an era when Broadway still wrote the book on popular music, and did so in this show so confidently that it could count on the audience to get the jokes. Highly recommended.


I've a Feeling We're Not in Kansas Anymore: Tales from Gay Manhattan
I've a Feeling We're Not in Kansas Anymore: Tales from Gay Manhattan
by Ethan Mordden
Edition: Hardcover
31 used & new from $3.17

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "The room was so quiet we could hear the appliances depreciating", September 18, 2014
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Recent readings of Ethan Mordden's generous writings on theater and movies caused me to re-read his first "Buddies" stories, I'VE A FEELING WE'RE NOT IN KANSAS ANYMORE (first published in 1985). Mordden's fictional writings are simply told but surprisingly complex: there are two of him, the cynic and the fantast, though to muddle the issues the cynic is often more warmly romantic than the fantast. I tend to gravitate more to the former narrator, the stern but playful Manhattanite who gathers a circle of gay friends around them with names like Carlo, Dennis Savage, Little Kiwi and Big Steve. I like the wisecracks, the fact that each time Little Kiwi's trots out his "horrendous" dog Bauhaus, Bud (the narrator) trots out a new adjective to describe him, each appellation more gruesome than the one before -- yet he never describes the little mutt. I like the way Bud and best friend Dennis Savage snipe at each other; I like the way even the uneducated Little Kiwi devises a new kind of wine spritzer containing melon balls and berries and christens it a "Kazootie Kooler," showing rare wit. These folk form the comedic cast that Mordden keeps fairly well intact through a total of five books over twenty-one years, what we now call the "Buddies" cycle. Really these are compendia of short stories but often with enough through line to count as novels if you squint.

What gives me pause, though, is when the second Mordden emerges: the deliberately mythopoetic didact who pontificates about the mores of the "Stonewall Culture" still in effect at the time the stories take place, particularly the two last and two longest. I can forgive him the penultimate story, set at Christmas, because its architecture so well conforms to the "Dickens with a modern edge" tale he promised us, just Bud, Bud's best friend from prep school, a flirtatious "gal pal" (Amazon won't let me use the vulgar term for her Mordden did, which rhymes with "nag hag"), and a surprising party full of very secure rich people. The last and longest story, though, is a mildly Mephistophelean mope about a guy who can conform his looks, at will, to whomever is most likely to bed him, and irresolutely resolved. Nonetheless, there was and is enough good storytelling in this volume that it made me pick up future releases in the "Buddies" cycle. In other words, I'VE A FEELING is a worthy start, and if I recall the following two volumes are even better. I intend to read them again, and soon if possible.

Buddies; Everbody Loves You.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 19, 2014 3:07 PM PDT


The Apartment (Collector's Edition)
The Apartment (Collector's Edition)
DVD ~ Jack Lemmon
Price: $8.24
50 used & new from $3.42

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "I guess that's the way it crumbles, cookie-wise", September 18, 2014
THE APARTMENT is a classic comedy-drama, an indictment of American sexual mores at the end of the Fifties wrapped into a delightful, if offbeat, love story. The best people went into its making: writer I.A.L. Diamond, director Billy Wilder, stars with engaging chemistry (Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine), and a delightful supporting cast including David White, Ray Walston, Edie Adams, and Fred MacMurray cast against type as a manipuative insurance executive. Every time I see this I am amazed at how vivid the dialog is, and how even the smallest props become symbols in their own right and feed the plot: a cracked woman's compact, a misbegotten key, even a leftover Christmas tree. This is a milestone of American moviemaking that has not lost its sharp charm, even for each succeeding generation.

Currently this Collector's Edition comes at a good price with some great supplements: a Commentary by Bruce Block; a making-of documentary, "Inside the Apartment"; and "Magic Time," about Jack Lemmon. I should note that this very widescreen production (2.35 to 1) looked sharp on our home theater set to "wide," and played without distortion. All in beautiful black-and-white, of course.


My Fair Lady
My Fair Lady
Price: $11.98
54 used & new from $3.50

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Let the others of my sex tie the noose around their necks...", September 17, 2014
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This review is from: My Fair Lady (Audio CD)
MY FAIR LADY has got to be one of the most celebrated musicals of Broadway's "Golden Era," ca. 1935-75, and it's probably the most celebrated original cast album of all times. Here it is in CD, right down to the same cover on your parents' or grandparents' LP. Every tune a memorable one, enjoyable even if you don't know the story (though there IS a faithful movie version, you know). Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews have never been better, and there's wonderful support on hand too. Buy it at this very reasonable price and you'll get a fine booklet in lieu of the old LP "liner notes." Highest recommendation.


Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (New York City Center Encores! Presents)
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (New York City Center Encores! Presents)
Price: $10.00
33 used & new from $5.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is what revivals ought to be, September 17, 2014
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This is what revivals ought to be! Before I heard this Encores! revival of GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES (1949) recorded in 2012 after playing a week, I only knew of the 20th-Century Fox movie (1953) with Marilyn Monroe (the blonde, Lorelei Lee) and Jane Russell (her brunette buddy Dorothy Shaw). It will detract none of my fondness for that amazing movie when I note that this is a VERY packed one-CD recording that has many, many more songs than in the celluloid remake. For example, there is a title song here, as well as Lorelei's expository number, "A Little Girl from Little Rock," while the movie combined both actresses into "Two Little Girls From Little Rock," put the number up front, and dispensed with the title song.

Overall, GENTLEMEN is a brilliant show: Book by Anita Loos (who wrote the original Twenties novel) and Joseph Field, lyrics by Leo Robin, music by Jule Styne. Although this show is an affectionate look at what can only be called Rich Folks' Twenties, it is not a pastiche or a wallow in camp: Styne's music and Robin's lyrics are too sophisticated for that. The way the songs are sung was not of the Twenties, either. I'll let the CD booklet explain why back in 1949, composer/arranger Hugh Martin gets so much of the credit for "bringing the modern sound of Hollywood . . . to the stages of Broadway. . . Martin's technique in choral writing was to use the close, tight jazz voicings employed by popular vocal groups of the day such as the Modernaires. The arrangements in GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES are typical of his method of writing in eight-part harmony, in which the men sing the same four harmony parts as the women, but down one octave. The result is a thick, textured sound that resembles a saxophone or brass section in a jazz band." And how! And since the Encores! shows are sticklers for the original arrangements, in their hands this sounds stimulating, complex and wonderful.

Sure, not every song on this CD is a barn-burner; some of them have a little too vodee-oh-doh even for me. On the other hand, a song about homesickness that turns into a list song somehow comes across as bright and stylish, despite the cataloging of Jazz Age novelties like Mutt and Jeff, Cracker Jack, Sophie Tucker, Texas ("Hello, Sucker!") Guinan, the Bambino (Babe Ruth), and numerous others. At any rate, most of the songs are wonderful, and it's not hard to discern Jule Styne's sleekly jazzy style. A shout-out to all the singers, especially Megan Hilty as Anita Loos' perennial befuddled blonde. As of now, the CD comes at an impossibly low price for a recent revival, and the left-side booklet even includes full lyrics. Strong recommendation!


Flahooley (1951 Original Broadway Cast)
Flahooley (1951 Original Broadway Cast)
Price: $11.35
34 used & new from $3.95

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Endearing, if a little weird, September 17, 2014
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This review is of the original cast recording (now on CD) of FLAHOOLEY, the 1951 musical with a book by E. Y. ("Yip") Harburg and Fred Saidy, lyrics by Harburg, and music by Sammy Fain. The show only lasted 40 performances on Broadway, a flop of that or any other era. One reason may have been that librettist and lyricist Harburg wanted to have another FINIAN'S RAINBOW politically, and this satire of big business, our kid culture, and McCarthyism, with a dose of the exotic thrown in, didn't please. Or, as the current Wikipedia article tartly affirms it: "It did not help that associate producer/director Harburg saw no need to edit writer Harburg's overstated political views."

But there is much to recommend the show, even without consulting the libretto. Lots of Broadway shows of the era had more songs, but this one has a dazzling variety of them, all well performed. In fact, if you want a great example of Broadway cast singing of the time (along with KISS ME KATE and some others, of course) listen to the cast in the expository numbers. The show had Barbara Cook, her first Broadway billing. The cast also had interesting peripheral types like Ernest Truex, Irwin Corey, Louis Nye, and Nehemiah Persoff, and they are heard.

But most of all, FLAHOOLEY has Yma Sumac, a Peruvian singer with a legendary four-octave range (no BS, there are numerous recordings that attest to that) who was thrown into the show to provide an exotic air (in other words, she was to this show what the leprechaun was to FINIAN'S RAINBOW). At this point in her career (her peak), Sumac was recording and touring exotic, often pseudo-folk Peruvian songs written largely by her husband and some others, like American Les Baxter. In FLAHOOLEY, she played an Arabian Princess toting an empty Aladdin's lamp looking for an American repair. The pseudo-Arabian music that cues her arrivals are camp in themselves, and two years before KISMET. Never mind that -- she must be heard to be believed.

This is an interesting bunch of songs in its own right, well-sung, with good sound quality for the era. The CD is certainly cheap enough, though I for one wish the accompanying info had included lyrics as well as cast information. But as several other reviewers here have said, this show is just marginal enough that it keeps slipping in and out of print -- buy it now if you have any desire that way, and I have a feeling you'll be glad you did.


The Military Atlas of World War I
The Military Atlas of World War I
by Michael Neiberg
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.15
53 used & new from $13.98

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I wish all historical maps were this good! ~~~, September 16, 2014
Would that all historical atlases were this good! Over 150 pages of maps plus introduction, table of combat strength per country, and an Index. Maps are a mixture of the expected (Ypres) and unexpected (U-Boats, Airship Raids), and easy to read. Plus, it's hardbound! Rare to find a World War I atlas this good, and I know of none so affordable.

At this price it's hard to go wrong.


The Best of Connie Francis: 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection
The Best of Connie Francis: 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection
Price: $4.99
66 used & new from $0.63

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great old stuff at a bargain price, September 15, 2014
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The 20TH CENTURY MASTERS series takes the best of an earlier generation's pop stars, remasters them onto CD's, and makes them affordable -- although usually the CD's are not terribly long. The twelve tracks on this one salute Connie Francis both as a singer of standards like "Who's Sorry Now" and "My Happiness," and of course also of pop, among them "Stupid Cupid" and "Where the Boys Are," which is not exactly the same version she sang as the title song to the MGM movie of the same name, but close enough. At this price it's hard to go wrong!


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