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Broadway Players pay homage to Tinseltown

Stewart OksenhornAspen, CO Colorado
Broadway Players "At The Movies" cast photo 4/9/07.
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ASPEN After 12 years of bringing the best songs of music theater to Aspen, the Broadway Players are kissing the Great White Way goodbye. This year, instead of celebrating Broadway, the local troupe is singing hooray for Hollywood.The 13th annual Broadway Players’ production, “The Broadway Players Go Hollywood,” takes place Thursday and Friday at 7 p.m. at the Wheeler Opera House. The shows are free, a gift from Aspen’s stage performers to the community.Over their history, the Broadway Players have covered nearly every corner of their namesake avenue. They have devoted shows to such composers as Stephen Sondheim, Leonard Bernstein and Cole Porter, traipsed from “42nd Street” to “Oklahoma,” and even did a show of alternative Broadway, “Not Your Father’s Broadway,” focusing on rock-oriented musicals like “Jesus Christ Superstar.” But Jeannie Walla, who has spearheaded the Players from the beginning, said the relocation from the Manhattan stage to the Los Angeles screen has nothing to do with a shortage of musical theater material.”Oh heavens, no!” said Walla, scrunching up her face at the thought of running out of show tunes. “Not in a million years.”

Instead, the show grew out of the misguided desires expressed over the years by the cast members (most of whom are past or current members of the cast at the Crystal Palace dinner theater). Walla said that members of the Broadway Players would approach her with the idea of performing a song that was from a movie, rather than a stage musical. Most often, it was “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” from “The Wizard of Oz.” “So this is a chance to think about the movies,” Walla said.Clearly Walla has been thinking about the music of the big screen nearly as much as the Broadway repertoire. She knew, for instance, that the instrumental theme from “M.A.S.H.,” so familiar from thousands of TV reruns, had lyrics to it in Robert Altman’s 1970 film. It also has a title – “Suicide Is Painless,” named for the film character, Painless, a dentist. (As a bonus, Walla can tell you that the lyrics were written by Altman’s son, Mike, who was 14 at the time. And that the younger Altman made millions for his contribution to the song, far more than the late director earned for making the film.) She points out that Brazilian music legend Antonio Carlos Jobim first came to recognition in the U.S. with his score for the 1959 film “Black Orpheus.””The Broadway Players Go Hollywood” includes “Suicide Is Painless.”There is a good bit of overlap between Broadway and Hollywood, in terms of both material and talent. “Singin’ in the Rain” debuted in 1952 as a movie musical, before heading to Broadway. (Which makes it eligible for inclusion in the current show, which features a medley from the film.) Composers such as Irving Berlin and Frank Loesser moved between the two genres; “The Broadway Players Go Hollywood” features Berlin’s “Cheek to Cheek” from the 1935 film “Top Hat,” and Loesser’s “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” from 1949’s “Neptune’s Daughter.”

But Walla observes some distinctions between movie and stage songs. For one, most movies tend to have just one original song: “My Heart Will Go On” from “Titanic”; “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)” from “Arthur.” That tends to give them more of an identity. “Almost every one of these songs was the song,” Walla said. “If you talk about ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s,’ what song do you think of? ‘Moon River.'”Broadway tends to have a stricter stylistic formula than the movies. In “The Broadway Players Go Hollywood,” the songs range from the vocal pop of Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On”; to the folk-rock of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson,” from “The Graduate”; to “Somebody to Love,” written by the rock band Queen, and performed by Anne Hathaway in the 2004 film “Ella Enchanted.”Show tunes and film songs have in common the fact that they generally don’t get as popular as they used to. The most popular songs typically used to come from the stage or the screen; rock ‘n’ roll, and the rise of the LP, changed that.

“In the ’50s, the hit song from a movie – you’d hear it on the radio. All the hit singers would record it. You’d go to a Las Vegas nightclub and it would be part of the act. Men would sing it; women would sing it,” said Walla. Two examples of such songs included in the current show are “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing” and “Three Coins in the Fountain,” both title songs from mid-’50s films.”The Broadway Players Go Hollywood” will also feature the first tap-dance segment in the ensemble’s history. This has more to do with the talent than the switch to the movies; John Goss, making his debut with the Players, will tap “You Are My Lucky Star” as part of a medley from “Singin’ in the Rain.” (Goss also choreographs the show; the cast includes two more newcomers – Peggy Mundinger and Jeff Bestic – as well as regulars Valerie Lee, Meredith and Gary Daniel, Mike Monroney, Walla, and music director Bob Finnie. All of them volunteer their services.)While Walla vows she will never run out of show tunes, she says she also has a long list of theme shows in mind that could take the Players away from Broadway. A “Broadway Players Do the Boob Tube” show would feature the best TV theme songs – Walla swears there are plenty, and starts naming and singing them. And then there’s “The Broadway Players Do Disney”; “The Broadway Players Sing Andrew Lloyd Webber” … .Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com


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