This week's colorful selections focus on three vastly different but entertaining females. First, a fictitious little girl obsessed with the color pink. Then, Songs Spun of Gold by pensive singer Elli Fordyce, and a dippy dip into the past with the mid-1950s comic eccentricities of Hermione Gingold.
If you have a sweet tooth for cute kid stuff and fluff, here's the cast album for a children's musical that's about as sweet as the sticky pink-frosted cupcakes its heroine can't resist. She likes anything and everything pink and wishes everything were pink. And soon enough, she is, too, from head to toe. Her perplexed parents try to procure a pediatrician's panacea, leading to a song which proceeds to be, perhaps, the musical highlight. It's not just that a medical visit seems to be oodles more fun and fearless when the doctor (Dr. Wink, conveniently rhyming with the word "pink") sings a razzle-dazzle tune that rhymes the disease's aspects and then breaks into a tap dance, the catchy "Pinkititis." The moral is not laid on quite as thick as frosting, but the messages are loud and clear: listen to your parents; and parents, spend time and attention on your children and tell them you love them. Oh, and eating your vegetables can cure your illsliterally. The show is performed with feisty energy and goodwill by a five-member cast of adults, with some spunky humor, a bit of sarcasm and a wink.
If you don't have a fondness for children's theatre or you're not in touch with the kid inside you (I do and I think I am), you may get the kind of headache one gets with too much sugar. And, unlike some classic kid-friendly musicals, there isn't a deep well of emotion, appeal on multiple (age) levels, or major flights of fancy or adventure with a lot of plot. It's a simple story told simply, unpretentious and not ambitious to be more than a wisp and a giggle. There's certainly a musical theatre feel, albeit not much more than a bevy of bouncy but likeable melodies by John Gregor (who also wrote the musical With Glee), the musical director who does the sprightly accompaniment.
Many songs' lyrics do not reach further than proclaiming the praises of seeing and being pink, cupcakes, and dreams (of the aforementioned). Still, an interesting aspect is having the little brother also having guess-what-hue as his favorite color, despite others telling him that pink is just for girls; there's a nice message of reinforcing individualism there. His song is thus another plus, and note its chance to reference the standard "The Blues in the Night" with its opening line, "My daddy done told me/ That pink ain't right for boys". Yes, it's in blues style, and titled "I Got the Pink Blues." Lyrics are by the composer with Elizabeth and Victoria Kann, sisters who wrote the bookmeaning both the play's dialogue and the children's book it's based on (and its inevitable sequels, Purplicious and Goldilicious).
A very short album for this short musical, playing time is a bit under 28 minutes. The Broadway Baby label is a new imprint of Sh-K-Boom. Though most songs are quite shortabout half are under two minutes longa few sing-songy ones still feel repetitious (at least to adult ears) and drill things into your head. The show has succeeded, having runs in Pittsburgh, Texas and elsewhere, plus its various runs in the NYC area; it's currently playing weekend matinees at The Bleecker Street Theatre. If you're looking for a smaller-scale lighthearted, good-hearted show, behold! Your cupcake runneth over.
There are many intriguing and subtle colorations as Elli Fordyce Sings Songs Spun of Gold. In contrast to the children's musical above, which sees things literally all rosy and from a kid's perspective, vocalist Elli Fordyce has a mature, older-but-wiser, sometimes sadder-but-wiser, perspective on the world. She's proudly 72 years old and projects a lived-in sense of understanding, reflection, and perspective. Her ... Songs Spun of Gold has many moments that indeed glimmer like gold, with the warm glow of lingering memories. But there's also a spark that is very immediate, as in her phrasing, she often sounds as if she's coming to a sudden and first-time realization. This is all the more remarkable with mostly very well-known standards. Her nuances and shadings, a powerful mini-pause, the choice to speak a word rather than sing the note, a wistful sigh of self-knowing chucklethere are many quivers in her bow as she interprets, shapes and explores lyrics. She is as much actress as vocalist here on the more seriously-taken numbers, imparting or sharing lessons through the songs, thoughtfully, tenderly, but without pontificating or being obvious.
She tends to opt for an intimate sound, not heft and power, but when she chooses to, she can put on her jazz singer's thinking cap and skip along through the melody, taking liberties and taking a break from the drama potential of lyrics. These prove to be satisfactory respites, though I don't "need" them as such, and prefer the tracks more invested in the lyrics rather than a breezier approach. After some deep pools of feeling early on, a few of the less-dramatically-involved readings are clustered to the end, feeling thus anticlimactic to me. But that's quite OK, as there are a generous 17 tracks, and these seemingly offhand, carefree cuts are chances to appreciate some other aspects of her skills and have an easygoing jazz romp or threeand appreciate the seven fine, fine musicians she's working with, especially pianist Jeremy Manasia. Her approach to Rodgers & Hart's "Where Or When," for example, is more like tossing a pebble that skips across the pond, skimming the surface. But her other Rodgers & Hart choice is the best of both worlds: appreciating luxuriating in jazzy contentment that is a payoff of setting up the precise "moment" when "My Heart Stood Still."
When she chooses to delve into the richly rewarding world of bittersweet songs, her forte as I see things, it's mighty moving and heartbreaking without mush. Her "Softly, As I Leave You" is a masterful example of painting a picture of a moment in time and the tug that conflicting emotions and memories can have. On the same page, her reflections on the break-up in "Where Do You Start?" are presented as a woman living each moment and observation, whether looking ahead through clear eyes or through tears. An interesting choice is to take the liberty to make the lonely pain that comes "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning" as a first-person narrative rather than the more removed second-person, as written (she makes it "that's the time I miss him most of all").
Rather than taking the well-traversed road of fierce angst for Sweet Charity's "Where Am I Going?", Elli slows the song down, making it more of a quiet, monologue with equal parts doubt, defeat and deflation. She actually does that in some of those tracks that she seemed to be dashing through. The point, to illustrate it with one of the song titles is: "Listen Here": there's something to learn in the listening here.
Give Songs Spun of Gold a spin. When Elli Fordyce treats the lyrics thoughtfully as if they are worthy as gold, she's a gem herself.
As an appreciator of the unique voice, stance and personality of Hermione Gingoldencountered long ago in character roles in beloved movie musicals Gigi and The Music Man and of course her role as Desiree's mother in A Little Night Music (stage and screen)I had long ago snapped up a solo vinyl record album when I came across it. Ah, yes, I remember it well. Titled La Gingold, it was recorded in 1955, a full-length potpourri of specialty comic numbers all in her deep, British-accented voice. She was putting us on, putting on airs and putting on a deliciously demented, delightful devilish show for the sitting-by-the-audio-speakers audience. Her first of several spoken introductions was upfront as she intoned deeply and grandly, "This is the voice of Hermione Gingold, coming to you on wax in your own home." She refers in this introductionto a song called "Introductions" about spoken introductionsto an act she did at the Café de Paris, located not in Paris, but London. These previously issued La Gingold tracks and two others are the "bonus tracks" on Stage Door Records generous-length CD of quirky Hermione character pieces and special material, with her rolled rs and little spoken asides and chuckles between lines. Some have quite a bit of talk. Twenty-five tracks make for a comedy banquet, some finding similar styles of humor and delivery as she was up to her old tricks. The repertoire throughout this CD includes some old numbers she'd introduced in various revues over the years.
The first dozen tracks, the so-called Live at ... were recorded in 1953, but, despite the boast of title, assume nada. This is not an in-person recording. You won't hear applause and laughter or ambient room noise of clinking champagne glasses. It's just the act that was, apparently. (Historical details are sketchy, and some songs are listed as "composer unknown.") So this is a newly discovered, uncovered treasure trove, presumably intended for release but shelved. So, it's not surprising that when the La Gingold album was made a couple of years later, she recorded new versions of two of her pieces and so we have both versions of them here. They are "Which Witch?"about being cast as one of the witches in Macbeth (she has a strong preference) and personifying an operatic diva of limited abilities and unlimited ego who is the self-anointed, self-appointed top star, "The Queen of Song" (credited contradictorily to different writers each time it appears). Numbers like these where she pokes fun at fussy, self-aggrandizing, bragging performers and reveals their misguided self-assessment are among the very best pieces. It's something she does especially wonderfully. It's hilarious when she puffs herself up or stops for a bit of honesty, such as when the "Queen of Song" admits her Madame Butterfly sounded more "like a bee." It's easy to see why this went over well and was used in three different revues between over a 20-year span.
Some seem silly or quaint and don't age as well as others, some having topical references. Some seem a long way to go for a modest payoff punch line, but the wacky journey is more rewarding than the destination. Come along for the ride and just enjoy the madness. In the Café section, I particularly enjoy her digs at the conventions of doing a cabaret act ("You've Got to Have a Photograph") and the tale of the world-traveling "Mme. La Cava, the Snake Charmer" and her various woes and beausa sailor, a ringmaster, a raja, etc. She recounts and recalls her encounters with asps and menliaisons and what's happened to them, as it were. Another wacky characterization is a psychic who admits she's not the best, but a free blithe spirit, "I'm Only a Medium Medium" (a career taken up to relieve thewait for the rhyme"tedium") credited to Geoffrey Wright, Gingold herself and composer Eric Maschwitz to whom she married. These Café tracks have just piano accompaniment, but there's a small band on the other tracks. It doesn't matter much either way.
Those who never came by the La Gingold album have in store for them such pleasures as her "Tit for Tat," which is inspired by Noel Coward's famous admonition to stage mother Mrs. Worthington, imploring her not to put her daughter on the stage. In the number, she's that daughter some years later, apparently a success despite the squint and no hint of talent, telling Coward to stop sending her scripts to consider. Cute! In other favorites, she observes that dreary, dark dramatizations of drug addicts would be ever so much more charming if written in a lively musical comedy style! Thus, voilà!: "Cocaine." And speaking of musical comedy, it's also nice to have the early page from the book of Sheldon Harnick (teamed with David Baker), "Someone Is Sending Me Flowers," just called "Flowers" here.
Also included on the CD are two songs (from both sides of an old 78 rpm single) that are duets with Gilbert Harding. He's equally mock-dry and arch. "Takes Two to Tango" takes the old cliché with a bit of mild innuendo; it was also recorded by such duetting musical stars as Frank Sinatra and Pearl Bailey. An old story of a literal, literary kind is the saga of Little Red Riding Hood put into song as "Oh, Grandma." The sound quality throughout the CD here is more than acceptable for its age and some obscurity. But nothing can obscure the talents and terrific timing and well-calculated madness of the late, great Hermione Gingold. There are few lulls in the LOL experience of enjoying the very colorful characters of this lady who was quite a colorful character herself.