Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Play It Again: Fiddler's "Do You Love Me?"

PLAY IT AGAIN: Fiddler on the Roof's “Do You Love Me?” 

For this new series, Jeff has invited me to choose some classic Broadway show tunes and compare versions of these songs from several different cast recordings. Wherever possible, I’ll link to the songs on YouTube, where I listen to most of them myself.

This week I’ll be comparing five recordings of the second-act duet
“Do You Love Me?” from composer Jerry Bock and lyricist Sheldon Harnick’s classic Fiddler on the Roof. The recordings considered below are from the original Broadway cast, the film soundtrack, the two most recent Broadway revivals, and the off-Broadway Yiddish production (where the song is called “Libst Mikh, Sertse?” with lyrics by Shraga Friedman). 

A masterpiece of character-driven songwriting, “Do You Love Me?” comes at a crucial point in the second act of the show, when milkman Tevye has decided to let one of his daughters marry for love rather than practical considerations. Recalling his own arranged marriage, he poses the titular question to Golde, his wife of twenty-five years. Not accustomed to thinking in such terms, she at first mocks him for asking such a pointless question, and then enumerates the many things she’s done for him over the years as evidence of her feelings; but Tevye is not satisfied and finally persuades her to say that she loves him, a sentiment which he immediately reciprocates.

My overall favorite version is marked with two stars (**); one star (*) is used to indicate that a particular version stands out in terms of singing, orchestra, sound, or other miscellaneous qualities.

- YouTube

Tevye: Zero Mostel; Golde: Maria Karnilova

SINGING: Mostel’s delivery, both sung and spoken, is casual but expressive; he’s especially effective at conveying his increasing urgency as his wife equivocates on answering his question. Karnilova, more than subsequent Goldes, leans into vocal acting rather than pure singing; the result sounds natural enough, but a few of her notes could be a little less piercing for my taste.

ORCHESTRA: The orchestra is surprisingly subdued for the original recording of a Golden Age masterpiece. It’s mostly strings with some woodwinds in the mix for added color, but there’s not much ornamentation.

SOUND: Quite clear, but the vocals are too prominent; the orchestral introduction over the dialogue barely registers.

MISCELLANEOUS: The tempo seems quite fast - though, given that this is the original, maybe it’s more accurate to say that subsequent versions are slow! Regardless, I prefer a more languorous pace for such an eloquent song. This version includes the longest bit of spoken material at the beginning, with a couple of lines for Golde.

- YouTube

Tevye: Topol; Golde: Norma Crane

SINGING: Topol’s interpretation is zestful and expansive, perhaps a bit melodramatic compared to the others, but I can see why he owned this part for so many years, on screen and off. Crane’s delivery is loud and brash, with words somewhat clipped at times. The two approaches are very distinct, yet they sound lovely together at the end. A juicy highlight here is this quick exchange: “You’re a fool!” “I know.”

*ORCHESTRA: It’s not a level playing field, really, since this version has the advantage of music adapted and conducted by John Williams. The shimmering strings, woodwind flourishes, and sudden dynamic bursts are a perfect match for the song’s shifting emotional landscape.

SOUND: Not great; individual sounds tend to blend together, and the vocals are sometimes very loud.

MISCELLANEOUS: The tempo is pleasantly slow here, and Topol does a great job with the introductory monologue.

- YouTube

Tevye: Alfred Molina; Golde: Randy Graff

SINGING: Both actors are surprisingly subdued here; they hit the notes but skip the character touches that are so ubiquitous in the other versions. Graff’s beautiful soprano, in particular, does very little to distinguish Golde from Fantine. Molina’s voice is pleasant and natural, with some nice dynamic changes, but otherwise does little to establish Tevye’s character or state of mind. Pleasant but undistinguished, “vanilla” is the word I’d use to describe this entry overall.

ORCHESTRA: The chamber-like ensemble is the smallest of them all, but the delicate orchestration makes up for it, with lots of colorful touches. I especially like the low flute at the beginning.

SOUND: This is a very clear recording, with a nice balance between vocals and orchestra.

MISCELLANEOUS: Like the original recording, the tempo seems quite brisk. There’s no introductory dialogue, but that does make it easier to hear the charming orchestral introduction. (Irrelevant note: this recording features by far my favorite cover art.)


Tevye: Danny Burstein; Golde: Jessica Hecht

*SINGING: I think both singers achieve the best mix of beautiful vocals and effective characterization on this recording. Burstein’s interpretation is reminiscent of Mostel’s in terms of expressive detail, but he’s also capable of a more traditional, musically satisfying delivery, especially on sustained notes. Similarly, Hecht’s vocals manage to seem as pure as Graff’s but as distinctive as Crane’s. One particular highlight is the comical mini-outburst when they exchange barks of “I’m your wife!” and “I know!”

ORCHESTRA: The orchestra and arrangements are similar to those on the 2004 revival recording, but with a fuller string section.

SOUND: Not the best of the lot. The sound is a little muddled, with the orchestra too prominent; certain loud parts seem somehow pinched (unfortunately, I lack the technical vocabulary to be more precise than that!).

*MISCELLANEOUS: Tevye’s introductory spoken lines, as well as the orchestral underscoring, sound particularly good together here. The tempo is perfect: mostly unhurried, but with some shifts, including an appropriately accelerated middle section (“The first time I saw you…”).

- YouTube

Tevye: Steven Skybell; Golde: Jennifer Babiak

SINGING: The vocalists are very well-matched, each taking a fairly straightforward approach with a few nice touches to maintain effective characterization. Skybell has a pleasant voice throughout, and his increasingly whispered pleas are a particularly nice choice. Babiak has a more refined and traditional voice, like Graff, but she knows which words need a little extra punch. The two sound better than any other pair when they sing together at the end.

ORCHESTRA: I was expecting Fiddler-lite on this particular recording, but the orchestra is actually surprisingly full, with lush strings and lots of woodwind touches. This version is unique in having a sort of brassy ending, compared to the strings and bells of other recordings.

*SOUND: This is an extremely clear and well-balanced recording; all musical details are easy to hear. This was especially obvious when I noticed the “Tradition”-like accordion figure after Tevye sings “I’m asking you a question” - I had to go back and make sure it was actually present on the other recordings, rather than something added for this one.

MISCELLANEOUS: Not much to add: the tempo is moderate, and the track does include a Yiddish version of Tevye’s introductory monologue.


Monday, January 29, 2024

Review: Days of Wine and Roses

Review of the Sunday evening preview performance on January 7, 2024 at Studio 54 in New York City. Starring Kelli O'Hara, Brian d'Arcy James, Byron Jennings, David Jennings, and Tabitha Lawing. Music, lyrics and orchestrations by Adam Guettel. Book by Craig Lucas. Based on the play by JP Miller and the Warner Brothers film. Scenic design by Lizzie Clachan. Costume design by Dede Ayite. Lighting design by Ben Stanton. Sound design by Kai Harada. Musical direction by Kimberly Grigsby. Choreography by Sergio Trujillo and Karla Puno Garcia. Direction by Michael Greif. 1 hour 50 minutes with no intermission.

The air of Studio 54 was filled with excited anticipation for the second preview of the new musical Days of Wine and Roses. It really felt like an event. Would the latest from Adam Guettel (music and lyrics) and Craig Lucas (book) work as well on a larger Broadway stage as it did at the Atlantic off-Broadway? I didn't see the earlier production, so I can't compare, but I can say that it was Opening Night ready from where I sat. 

On a sleek, yet somehow foreboding unit set (design by Lizzie Clachan), we are transported to late 50s/early 60s New York. The environs, enhanced by Ben Stanton's by the mood-of-the-scene lighting and Dede Ayite's spot on, character-driven costumes, tell us as much about the central characters' descent into alcohol addiction as the music and script do. 

Based on a previous play and a famous film, the musical delves deep into the crushing weight of being dependent on booze to feel connected to life and your loved ones. Essentially a two character show, with a handful of important supporting roles, Wine and Roses is both an intimate examination of the relationship between Joe and Kirsten, and a broader cautionary tale. Under Michael Greif's tight direction, each moment builds on the last, and he has carefully steered the piece away from what could have easily become a histrionic soap opera. He deftly tells us where to look and what to see, but without judgement, leaving us to ponder and deal with our own feelings about what we are witnessing. I myself can attest to a wide range of often conflicting emotions. It is quite a ride, one that left me spent and in awe. In many ways, it reminded me of his work on Next to Normal.

The uniformly superb company of actors drive this piece to dizzying heights and terrifying lows. There is a small, hard-working ensemble called upon to fill in the gaps, acting purposefully like background players do in film. They definitely contribute to the brilliant whole of the show. David Jennings offers a tower-of-strength support system as the AA sponsor for Joe. What makes this role interesting is that back in the day, AA wasn't as widely known or accepted, so what we today are familiar with as far as warning signs and steps, could easily have come across as cliche or empty platitudes, but instead come off as fresh and sincere. Mr. Jennings' delivery never comes across as preachy. As Kirsten's father, Byron Jennings gives a brilliant multi-layered performance as a man fighting his own demons while helplessly struggling to save his daughter. There were times when he stood silently off to the side, almost in the shadows, and you could feel every emotion he was feeling. Making her Broadway debut as the couple's young daughter, Tabitha Lawing joins a growing list of strong child actors who give sincere, deep portrayals. Not since Sydney Lucas in Fun Home have I seen such an absolutely real performance from someone so young. Brava!

When you have two actors as beloved as Kelli O'Hara and Brian d'Arcy James, it can be a dicey thing. Will they meet our impossibly high standards for their work, or will they disappoint? Here, they have made our standards even higher. Both are giving career-defining performances that will be remembered for seasons to come. Their chemistry is palpable - even (or especially) when they are careening away from each other in a downward spiral. 


Mr. James is amazing as he navigates the tricky journey from marginally sleazy businessman with all the right words to violent alcoholic to teetering-on-the-edge sober caretaker. At times, he charms. Other times, he is cruel and manipulative - you hate him. But a lot of the time you pity him. (To say more could give away how things play out here.) There is one scene in particular where I felt like I was seeing him in previously uncharted waters. During what amounts to an aria, he desperately, destructively searches for a hidden bottle of booze. He was chilling and brilliant. Ms. O'Hara also navigates a terrifying journey from smart as a whip, totally in control teetotaler to fun party girl to tragic alcoholic. At times, she charms. Other times, she is easily manipulated - you want to shake her awake. And, yes, a lot of the time, you pity her. She makes some very poor decisions regarding her family, lying and wallowing in self-pity. The contrast between her happy confidence in the opening scenes and one particular scene later in a hotel room is shocking. Her transformation both emotionally and physically is as brilliant as it is troubling. The bottom line is that both of these actors are at the peak of their careers, giving tour-de-force performances.

This is not a show for the casual, let's-see-a-musical crowd. If you only like brassy, dance-y spectaculars, this won't be for you. But if you like dramatic, thought-provoking theater that expects you to engage, get a ticket and buckle up. Guettel's jazzy, complex score and Lucas' tension filled book, along with brilliant, once-in-a-lifetime performances will remind you that musicals are, indeed, art.

📸: A. Foster, J. Marcus

Friday, January 26, 2024

Broadway Games: Name That Show! (Round 3)

Broadway Games:
Name That Show! (Round 3)

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Today's game is all about pictures - pictures of original Broadway casts. 

It's pretty simple. Look at the photo, name the show. The first five are very well known shows. The bonus is pretty easy this week. Good luck!  






(The only one this week that 
DIDN'T win Best Musical!)

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Star-To-Be: Danny Kornfeld

Years of theater-going have helped me develop a sort of sixth sense when it comes to recognizing new talent that has the goods to have a long, successful career. When it came to the show
Harmony, there was an embarrassment of riches. Five of the six principal Comedian Harmonists were making their Broadway debut, and each one was wonderful in his own way. All of them have the potential to be breakout stars. But one of them, as the younger version of Chip Zien's character, Danny Kornfeld, really stood out to me as a real star-to-be. We use the term "triple threat" a lot, but I'd suggest he's a quadruple threat: he excels in song, dance, comedy and drama. He is an exciting performer!

Harmony's Danny Kornfeld 

He is already amassing a nice resume of movie and TV projects, including a recurring role in American Horror Story: NYC and featured roles in two 2023 films, Tripped Up and Loud and Longing. And as with most actors with an eye toward a thriving stage career, Kornfeld has definitely put his BFA in Drama (from Syracuse University, no less) to good use in more than a dozen workshops, regional work, a national tour, and three off-Broadway shows, including an earlier version of Harmony.

20th Anniversary Tour of Rent - Mark Cohen

Off- Broadway: Renascence - Aunt Caroline
(Left: Far left; Right: 3rd from right)

Off- Broadway: Wringer - Mutto
(Right: far left)

Can't wait to see what he does next. Hope to see his name in lights soon!

Monday, January 22, 2024

2023 - 2024 Musical Logos: Gutenberg! The Musical!

2023 - 2024 Broadway Musical Logos:
Gutenberg! The Musical!

The first first thing you notice about the logo for the soon-to-close Gutenberg! The Musical! is the warm orange color. According to several sources (psychological, spiritual, etc.), orange represents energy, warmth, enthusiasm, optimism and adventure. These are attributes are all things one would want associated with a show.Now, mind you, I've not seen the show, but from everything I've read and heard about it, a musical about two guys trying to get their highly unlikely musical a producer would definitely fit the the criteria for using orange as their "show color."

The second first thing you probably notice about the show's key art is the prominence of the two stars, Josh Gad and Andrew Rannells, original co-stars of the mega hit The Book of Mormon. Not since Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick took the stage in The Odd Couple and It's Only a Play post The Producers has a Broadway show used such a hard sell of a comedy team to get butts in the seats. They are practically begging us to see for ourselves if theatrical lightning can strike twice. Judging by the better than decent box office this one had had its entire run, I'd say it worked.

The rest of the logo is a clever nod to Broadway show advertising. We all know adding punctuation automatically makes any show title more exciting, right? Just ask Oklahoma!, Hello, Dolly! and Moulin Rouge!. Not to be outdone, this one has two exclamation marks. Then there's their multiple taglines. "Two men. One Dream. No chance." It's the patented Neil Simon 1-2-3 joke, really. The first two parts set us up as if this is serious art. The third is the unexpected (and humorous) twist that is supposed to reel us into the box office. Then there's the "twist" on the typical "The Musical" where they have "handwritten" in some supplemental hype. It is kinda smart.

Wisely, they've made a joke about the subject of The Musical! (which isn't what the show is about, really) by using two stylized fonts. "Guten" is old school German looking (just like the printing press Bible guy was), followed by the broken, off kilter "berg!" that some
how evokes an iceberg of the type that sinks ships.

As if a well thought-out and presented logo wasn't enough, they really upped the ante with the other big selling point of the show - a cameo by someone famous at the end of each performance. Word spread over social media like a wildfire every night bout who it was. So they were smart and got out ahead of it by appealing to theater fans with Broadway themed ads hinting at who was the next cameo. Kudos for that!

Clearly, the combination of logo and prominently featured co-stars worked. The limited run show is a hit. Good for them!

Grade: A+

Friday, January 19, 2024

Broadway Games: Who or What's That Line About?

Broadway Games:
Who's (or What's) That Line About?

This week's game should test your knowledge of Broadway show tunes! Read each lyric and tell who or what it is about. BONUS: Name the song title and the show it comes from!

1. "There's a place for us..." Who/what is "us"?

2. "And I felt nothing!" Who/what is "I"?

3. "There she is! Towering high, broad and grand..." Who/what is "she"?

4. "And I am telling you...I'm not going!" Who/what is "I"?

5. "Oh! I am old. I am ugly. I embarrass you!" Who/what is "you"?

6. "What is that? It's priest. Have a little priest." Who/what is "that"?

7. "If you change your mind, I'm the first in line..." Who is "I"?

8. "That deaf, dumb and blind kid sure plays a mean pinball!" Who is the "kid"?

9. "Look, there she goes, that girl is so peculiar. With a dreamy, far-off look, and her nose stuck in a book..." Who is "that girl"?

10. "On my own, pretending he's beside me..." Who is "my"? Who is "he"?

If you aren't ready to check your answers, stop scrolling NOW!
If you are ready, please proceed!

1. "There's a place for us..." Who/what is "us"? US: Tony & Maria
Song: "Somewhere" Show: West Side Story

2. "And I felt nothing!" Who/what is "I"? I: Diana Morales  
Song: "Nothing" Show: A Chorus Line

3. "There she is! Towering high, broad and grand..." Who/what is "she"? 
SHE: The RMS Titanic Song: "There She Is" Show: Titanic

4. "And I am telling you...I'm not going!" Who/what is "I"? I: Effie White
Song: "And I Am Telling You" Show: Dreamgirls

5. "Oh! I am old. I am ugly. I embarrass you!" Who/what is "you"? 
YOU: Rapunzel Song: "Stay With Me" Show: Into the Woods

6. "What is that? It's priest. Have a little priest." Who/what is "that"?
THAT: an imaginary meat pie Song: "A Little Priest" Show: Sweeney Todd

7. "If you change your mind, I'm the first in line..." Who is "I"? 
I: Rosie Song: "Take a Chance on Me" Show: Mamma Mia!

8. "That deaf, dumb and blind kid sure plays a mean pinball!" Who is the "kid"?
KID: Tommy Walker Song: "Pinball Wizaed" Show: The Who's Tommy

9. "Look, there she goes, that girl is so peculiar. With a dreamy, far-off look, and her nose stuck in a book..." Who is "that girl"? THAT GIRL: Belle
Song: "Belle" Show: Disney's Beauty and the Beast

10. "On my own, pretending he's beside me..." Who is "my"? Who is "he"?
MY: Eponine HE: Marius Song: "On My Own" Show: Les Miserables

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