Library Journal called Andy Propst’s new biography of Cy Coleman, You Fascinate Me So, “a fascinating look at an influential man whose showbiz career spanned more than 50 years…Highly recommended for theater buffs, fans of music history, or those looking for an intriguing study of a memorable man.” Listen to Andy talk about Coleman and his book with James Marino, Peter Filichia, and Michael Portantiere at broadwayradio.com!
You Fascinate Me So author Andy Propst recently sat down with Zachary Stewart of TheaterMania for an interview during which they talk about his new book and his book’s subject, Cy Coleman!
Broadway composer Cy Coleman had a remarkably varied career. Before age 10 he was already a concert pianist. He eventually moved into the nightclub world and then onto Broadway where he penned musicals like Little Me and Sweet Charity, the show about a dancer-for-hire that features the unforgettable number “Big Spender.” His operetta tribute, On the Twentieth Century, is presently receiving its first Broadway revival at the American Airlines Theatre. Throughout his life, Coleman never stopped experimenting with musical and theatrical form.
Author Andy Propst charts it all in his expansive new biography of Coleman, You Fascinate Me So. Propst (who was a staff writer and critic for TheaterMania from 2009-2013) spoke to us about Coleman’s work, his fraught relationship with Carolyn Leigh, and his eclectic style.
TheaterMania: You write in the book that you saw your first musical, Sweet Charity, at the age of nine. Whose idea was it to take a nine-year-old to that?
Andy Propst: A woman by the name of Susan Miller. She was a teacher of acting at University of Illinois who had gone to college with my mother in Pennsylvania. She became my Auntie Mame. Susan was always introducing me to theater that might have been a little progressive for a preteen, but it did inspire a love of theater in me that exists to this day.
By the time Coleman was nine he had already played Carnegie Hall. How did he get such an early start?
His mother, Ida, was a landlord. She owned a couple of buildings in the Bronx. At the height of the Depression, one of the tenants left and took all their belongings except one thing they couldn’t get out of the apartment: an upright piano. Ida brought it into the house and Cy (who was known as Seymour Kaufman at that point) started playing by ear. He began taking lessons at the age of four and just before he was seven his teacher had gotten him to the point where he was winning citywide competitions and playing at The Town Hall.
Later he worked as a jazz pianist in clubs all over the city. How did that influence his work as a composer?
Musically he was a sponge. All of the music he heard and played was fused into him. He had a love of Rossini, which led him to the grandiose style we hear in On the Twentieth Century. When he was starting out in clubs he was doing covers of Rodgers and Hammerstein and Cole Porter. All of that became a part of his musical DNA.
Click here to read the rest of the interview!
Today is Peter Capaldi’s 57th birthday! In honor of the latest Doctor’s birthday, Doctor Who FAQ author Dave Thompson has written a birthday post, detailing his thoughts on Capaldi’s portrayal of the famous television character.
PETER CAPALDI’S BIRTHDAY
by Dave Thompson
The odds were always stacked against the Twelfth Doctor.
For a start, was he the Twelfth Doctor? Even before John Hurt’s “War Doctor” came along to throw out the numbering once and for all, the very fact that the tenth had been doubled was already throwing the chronology a bit.
Add to this the fact that Peter Capaldi’s reign not only followed that of the bafflingly popular Matt Smith’s, but also the show’s own (frankly untoppable) fiftieth birthday celebrations; add to that, the continued sense that show runner Steven Moffat has now switched his default setting to Unnecessarily Convoluted Storytelling mode; and add to that, the mold-breaking emergence of the first Doctor in a decade who isn’t simply older than the show, he’s also older than any of his predecessors (William Hartnell was 55 when he debuted the role; Capaldi was 56) . . . that’s a lot of baggage to carry.
As he commences filming on his second season, however, Capaldi has already conquered the most important task of all. He has convinced us that he is the Doctor, and not just within the realms of his personal, vociferous, fan club (the fate of at least two, and possible four of his predecessors).
A performance that is uniquely his own has also, and utterly without contradiction, been described as an amalgam of every Doctor who came first; First’s irascibility; Second’s humor; Third’s occasional resemblance to the magician who performed at your best friend’s fifth birthday party; Four’s uniquely alien outlook; Five’s . . . well, we’re still waiting for five to show up. But Six’s irascibility, Seven’s sense of mystery; Eight’s . . . okay, eight is still absent as well. But Eccleston’s toughness, Tennant’s charm and Smith’s flapping silliness can all be extracted from Capaldi’s DNA; and he has required all those qualities, too.
It is redundant to suggest that Moffat’s career as a writer is locked in irreversible decline, particularly where Doctor Who is concerned. But the truth is . . . true. The first three stories that he wrote for the series, The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances two-parter, The Girl In The Fireplace and Blink are routinely, and rightly, regarded as not simply the best tales told since the show returned in 2005, but among the best in its entire fifty year lifespan.
Subsequent creations could not maintain that quality, and often seemed set on upending it altogether; while the man who cast such razor-sharp eyes across simple human relationships via earlier creations Joking Apart, Coupling (both, tellingly, nominally sitcoms) and Jekyll is also responsible for foisting upon us some of the most cringe inducing romantic interests of the modern age: less Doctor Who, and more Who Cares?
That current companion Clara’s dalliance with “PE teacher” Danny Pink represents the most stultifying of them all was possibly the most heart-stoppingly dull of them all. Perhaps there are sound psychological reasons why the last ten year’s worth of Doctor’s companions have chosen to fall for the dullest blade in the knife box, but at least Mickey (Rose’s put-upon paramour) and Rory (Amy Pond’s pet rock) came good in the end, while even Donna’s ill-fated fiancé at least had the cojones to be working for the opposition all along.
The watery Pink, on the other hand, existed solely to provide the Doctor with an opportunity to indulge in further Mickey/Ricky mix-ups, this time by insisting that the math teacher taught PE; to push Clara into a series of emotional crises that were the least believable element of the entire series (and in a run that included the Moon being revealed as an egg; the legend of Robin Hood as an alien-induced hallucination; and trees as global fire-fighters, that’s quite an achievement); and to die, which we will get to in a moment.
Even more damagingly, not once were we offered any indication as to why Clara should care so much for the man. His persona is seen from just two perspectives – the Doctor’s scorn and disdain (which, unlike Ten’s constant mockery of Mickey, was not feigned), and his own tiresome PTSD induced sense of self-pity. Not once are we given even a hint as to why Clara should care any more for this bullying, over-possessive lunk than a fish would for a bicycle. Only once the season finale passed by did we understand why Pink was even part of the story to begin with.
It was so they could remake that whole Ianto/Cyber-girlfriend storyline from an old episode of Torchwood, of course. That, and the now inevitable insistence upon imbibing finales with a tissue box full of wearying lachrymosity. As if the death of Osgood, UNIT’s inhaler-wielding, scarf-toting hardcore queen of nerdish delight, was not shattering enough for the average viewer. As if the return of the Master, in the form of a fresh Mistress of Uber-camp Madness, was not breathtaking enough for the most trigger-happy channel-surfer. As if… as if we cared.
Capaldi triumphed over all of these things; and so did Clara, at least when she wasn’t being shoehorned into awkward clinches (and, via the Christmas special, even more awkward flashbacks) with the Pink thing.
Indeed, no matter how high Capaldi soared as the season progressed, Clara soared likewise. Unquestionably, her sheer force of character convinced us that, at last, the Doctor had unearthed a force of nature capable of equalling even Rose (or Jo Grant, for any older viewers still watching). And capable, too, of delivering lines with such beguiling intensity that an entire generation is destined to melt every time they hear the words “run, you clever boy . . .” Or see a soufflé.
As an overall series, it wasn’t the best. At least three episodes (Into the Dalek, Kill the Moon, In the Forest of the Night) rank among the weakest deployed since the show returned, and it may or may not be coincidental that two of those were at least partially stymied by the frankly absurd science that underpinned them. Yes, we know it’s all make-believe, but if you’re setting a story on what claims to be the Earth that the rest of us live on, then make sure that basic physics don’t undermine the whole thing.
Of the others, Flatline, Time Heist and Mummy on the Orient Express were bold enough to withstand multiple rewatchings; Deep Breath was rewarding upon subsequent viewings; Robot of Sherwood was this year’s Dinosaurs on a Spaceship; The Caretaker was a glorious romp; Listen was a frankly terrifying notion that writer Moffat then castrated by trying too hard; and then it was time for the season finale.
Dark Water/Death In Heaven was the two-parter in which we finally learned the reason why past stories had been interrupted by Mary Poppins, before Poppins herself became . . . Well, cynics could point out that Missy is less a reincarnation of the Master than she is a pantomime revision of Moriarty, and there is truth to that. But she is also (like Moriarty) one of Moffat’s all-time classic villains; frighteningly insane, incalculably evil, and absolutely unmissable. The moment when she sweeps herself so elegantly backwards and calls out for “Doctor Chang” . . . if you didn’t have a Demented Nanny fixation before that, you do now.
And Capaldi? Capaldi matched her every step of the way, to emerge as strong a Doctor as he ought to be, and as likable a Doctor as he clearly doesn’t care to be. And, even better, unlike his last three regenerations, the man can’t even flirt properly.
Although you know that on the playground the following day, once the cries of ”exterminate” and “delete” had been exhausted, more than one juvenile would-be Lothario zoomed in on the girl of his dreams and declared “you look nice. Have you washed?”
Happy birthday, Peter Capaldi. And happy birthday, Doctor. May there be many, many more.
Barry Monush, author of The Sound of Music FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About Maria, the von Trapps, and Our Favorite Things talks with Patrick Phillips of “Pop Culture Tonight” about his new book!
The Sound of Music FAQ is a comprehensive, encyclopedia-like reference to the world’s most popular movie musical. Rather than focusing on the often-told stories of this classic movie, this book looks at the 1965 Oscar-winner in relation to its source, including the true von Trapp family story and the Broadway musical from which it was derived.
The Sound of Music FAQ explores such facts and trivia as the movie’s phenomenal original run in cinemas, during which it dominated the box office for a staggering amount of time and became the highest grossing movie of the 1960s and of all time; its long and varied life on home video and primetime television; the bestselling soundtrack and many other related recordings; information behind the stunning Austrian locations; the critical feedback; the many stage revivals; and the continuing references, homages, reunions, and tributes related to it over the many decades since its release.
Andy Propst, author of You Fascinate Me So: The Life and Times of Cy Coleman, chats with Joe Dziemianowicz of the Joe D Show about the upcoming book and the new musical On the Twentieth Century!
He penned songs such as “Witchcraft” and “The Best Is Yet to Come” (signature tunes for Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett, respectively) and wrote such musicals as Sweet Charity, I Love My Wife, On the Twentieth Century, and The Will Rogers Follies – yet his life has gone entirely unexplored until now. You Fascinate Me So takes readers into the world and work of Tony, Grammy, and Emmy Award-winning composer/performer Cy Coleman, exploring his days as a child prodigy in the 1930s, his time as a hot jazz pianist and early television celebrity in the 1950s, and his life as one of Broadway’s preeminent composers.
This first-time biography of Coleman has been written with the full cooperation of his estate, and it is filled with previously unknown details about his body of work. Additionally, interviews with colleagues and friends, including Marilyn and Alan Bergman, Ken Howard, Michele Lee, James Naughton, Bebe Neuwirth, Hal Prince, Chita Rivera, and Tommy Tune, provide insight into Coleman’s personality and career.
Today is Quentin Tarantino’s 52nd birthday! Dale Sherman, author of Quentin Tarantino FAQ, has contributed a blog in honor of the famous director’s birthday!
A Generation on the QT
by Dale Sherman
So, here we are – Quentin Tarantino, the iconic movie director, is turning 52. I can’t say anything about getting older – certainly not any slams about being able to get into movie at half-price now – I’ll be turning 51 myself within the next month. We’re all getting older, and while I’m fine with that, I’m not exactly jumping up and down about it.
Speaking of which, when writing my book about the director, Quentin Tarantino FAQ, I do admit to some kinship to Tarantino for the close approximation of our ages. Perhaps that misguided; after all, I’m not a movie director, an Academy Award winner, and I’ve never written a script that has been made into a film. But I felt that closeness none the less. And in a way that I think is one of the reasons his films are popular with a certain audience that I am apart.
No, I’m not talking about being a geek here. Sure, Tarantino has been obvious, even stubbornly proud of his background as a movie and comic book fan. As discussed in the book, he even at one time considered attempting to turn the Marvel superhero character Power-Man into a film, and most fans (if not general readers) know of his love for old martial art films and bloody, whacked-out action films. But that isn’t quite what I mean here.
You see, Tarantino and I – and many others around the same age – came to our understanding of the world, and in particular the world of entertainment, at the same time. The 1970s. Like it or hate it; having lived through it or only heard about it; it was an incredible period for kids to grow up. There was this in retrospect an inexplicable freedom in what we got to see and do, just in the movies alone. Tarantino has the drop on me by a year, but I too was a kid that looked at those newspaper ads in the paper and saw all types of twisted films playing at the drive-ins that filled my imagination with plots far more frightening than what I eventually saw on the screen when seeing the films later on video. Television ads in local programming would be pretty loose as well, and it was not unusual to see an ad for horror films like It’s Alive! or Ghetto Freaks while watching Gilligan’s Island in the afternoon.
Plus television itself was much freer, with PBS showing no objection to profanity or nudity (who didn’t remember seeing Valerie Perrine in the all-together in their 1973 production of Steambath, or in the later run of I, Claudius?) and even controversial language would pop up once in a while on network programming as well. Things were discussed that were never brought up on television or in the movies before, and there was even an attempt in society to legitimize pornography as something people could see in good health (that didn’t last very long, but it was there). All type of oddball things were being recognized in the media and we as young teenagers were the first to see it all.
And, bizarrely, we saw it all in the most innocent way possible. Most things seemed to have a gloss of “brand new” products, spiffy and weirdly wholesome in a way that disappeared as the 1980s moved in and we started seeing the ugly side of things that looked so good the decade before. Suddenly, drugs killed. Porn stars died in suicide or OD, Words hurt and could not be examined, but buried. Freedom was dangerous and needed to be restricted to upper-class white people at best. Even mixing music genres – a staple of early 1970s radio stations – became strictly regulated through the corporate take-over of the airwaves in the 1970s. Innocent was not so much gone, but bought out because it allowed people to do things for fun instead of for a price.
And we lost that. The kids that came later didn’t have anything to lose, because they never got to experience the power of freedom that was the 1970s. But those of us a few years older still remembered those moments. Which is why I feel a kinship with Tarantino. We may not have gone down the same paths, but the emotional elements of his body of work speaks to those kids from the 1970s. When we see Travolta as a dancing hitman in Pulp Fiction, we’re reminded of his work in Saturday Night Fever; a zoom on Uma Thurman while the theme from Ironside plays reminds us of the kung-fu movies we grew up watching in theaters and on television; stars of our past returning to leading roles in his films, like Pam Grier in Foxy Brown, merely remind us of how cool they were and still are. Words are used that were okay to dissect, even laugh at, in the 1970s that we’re supposed to feel shame in even discussing today.
You can see it in those films of the 1970s – things appear there from major studios that say to us today, “they’d never get away with it now.” We lost that, but we can still see it through the prism of Tarantino’s films – that reflection, that memory of what made the 1970s so cool.
As I said, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m trying to see a bit of myself in Tarantino due to having dug so deep into his history when writing Quentin Tarantino FAQ. But I can’t help thinking that I’m as close to the truth as I am in age to Mr. Tarantino. He’s of my generation, and I think that is one reason why his films reach so many like me today.
I can only hope he still has some more stories to tell us before he hangs it up.
Fortune in My Eyes: A Memoir of Broadway Glamour, Social Justice, and Political Passion by David Rothenberg is now available in paperback!
Fortune in My Eyes: A Memoir of Broadway Glamour, Social Justice, and Political Passion by David Rothenberg (Applause Books)
David Rothenberg’s multilayered life thrust him into Broadway’s brightest lights, prison riots, political campaigns, civil rights sit-ins, and a Central American civil war. In his memoir, Fortune in My Eyes, his journey includes many of the most celebrated names in the theater: Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Bette Davis, Sir John Gielgud, Charles Boyer, Peggy Lee, Eartha Kitt, Charles Laughton, Alvin Ailey, and numerous others. David produced an Off-Broadway prison drama, Fortune and Men’s Eyes, which reshaped his life. John Herbert’s chilling play led directly to the creation of the Fortune Society, which has evolved into one of the nation’s most formidable advocacy and service organizations in criminal justice. David was Elizabeth Taylor’s opening night date at the Richard Burton Hamlet – a distant cry from his entering Attica prison during that institution’s famed inmate uprising…just two of the experiences revealed in this memoir. As a theater publicist and producer – and as a social activist – he shares experiences with presidents (JFK and Bill Clinton) and with anonymous men and women, out of prison, who have fought to reclaim their lives. The human drama of the formerly incarcerated is a match for many of the entertainment world’s most fabled characters.