Lush romantic stories are bread and butter to composer/lyricist Maury Yeston, and he writes scores to match. His elegiac music conjures time and place and whether the place is the doomed Titanic ocean liner or Grand Hotel Berlin 1928, the first half of the 20th century seems to be his preferred time.
At this time of post-Brexit xenophobia and with refugees in crisis, Ragtime’s dramatic account of the hardships and hatred faced by early 20th-century immigrants to America is all too timely.
Terrence McNally’s book works seamlessly with Lynn Ahrens’ lyrics to bring EL Doctorow’s 1975 novel to the stage. The story revolves around the interaction of three families: well-established WASPs (white Anglo-Saxon Protestants) Mother, Father and their Little Boy, with Grandfather and Mother’s Younger Brother; ragtime piano-playing African American Coalhouse Walker and Sarah, the mother of his baby son; and Tateh (Yiddish for daddy), a young Jewish widower newly-arrived from Latvia with his daughter, as well as his hopes. “A Shtetl iz Amereke,” sings Gary Tushaw’s starry-eyed, sympathetic Tateh.
Allegro is a curious musical. Released between 1945’s Carousel and South Pacific (1949), it goes some way to form the missing link in the canon of work by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein’s ground-breaking partnership. Theatrical ideas and innovative storytelling make Allegro a teasing and engaging watch, though it was ahead of its time; employing a Greek chorus to pass comment and an unfussy set to ensure the fluidity of its scenes.
Photo © Scott Rylander
In the mid-1970s Albert and David Maysles – first-generation sons of Jewish immigrants to the US from Eastern Europe – made Grey Gardens, one of their most famous films. The documentary told the story of a mother and daughter from the highest echelons of US Society, Edith and Edie Bouvier Beale, who were the aunt and cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. The two Bouvier Beale women were discovered living as reclusive social outcasts in Grey Gardens, a dilapidated mansion overrun by cats that was so squalid the Health Department deemed it “unfit for human habitation”.
Many musicals have varied fortunes but Grand Hotel might have the longest history. It started in 1929 as a novel and then evolved into a play by Austrian-Jewish writer Vicki Baum as Menschen im Hotel (People in the Hotel), exploring the extraordinary stories of guests and staff over one weekend in the best hotel in Berlin. It then became an academy award winning film in 1932 and in 1958, fresh from the success of Kismet, Luther Davis (who authored the accompanying book), as well as George Forrest and Robert Wright (both on lyrics duty) relocated the setting to Rome for their musical version starring Paul Muni. It opened on the West Coast to mixed reviews, straying quite a way from the original storyline, but Muni was ill and the punters wanted to see a closer version of the film so everyone decided against a Broadway opening.