fauxklore (fauxklore) wrote,

Life Begins at 8:40

One of the great advantages of living in the Washington, D.C. area is being able to go to events at the Library of Congress easily. Their music division, in particular, is a treasure trove of fascinating and enjoyable programs and last night's was a special one.

See, back in 1934, there was a musical revue titled Life Begins at 8:40. It had music by Harold Arlen with lyrics by Ira Gershwin and Yip Harburg. It featured people like Bert Lahr and Ray Bolger (both of whom were, of course, later in The Wizard of Oz for which Arlen and Harburg wrote the score.) It ran for a couple of hundred performances. And then bits of sheet music were stashed away here and there and it wasn't performed for 75 years.

Thanks to the fine work of the several folks at the LoC, the revue was reconstructed and performed for one night only. Most of the people there were library staff and volunteers, but some tickets were made available to the general public. (I should mention that this was free. Yes, that's right - free.) There was a little confusion about ticketing with an initial email with a phone number, followed shortly by one that said there were no reservations but tickets would be given out between 6 and 7:30 p.m. It seems that it was actually possible to reserve, but showing up around 6ish worked to get me a number and only slight anxiety about actually getting in. I had dinner nearby and came back around 7:30 to see my fate. As far as I could tell, everybody did get in. There were even a few empty seats.

The original show had skits and acrobats and various other acts, but this was a concert. And what a concert! In addition to a 20 or so person orchestra and an 11 member ensemble, the production starred big names. I'm talking about people who I have paid good money to see on Broadway. Specifically, in addition to director David Glenn Armstrong and musical director Aaron Gandy, the singers were Kate Baldwin, Philip Chaffin, Christopher Fitzgerald, Montego Glover, Rebecca Luker, Brad Oscar, Faith Prince, Graham Rowat, and Jessica Stone.

There were some glitches with the sound, alas, with the orchestra too loud, making it hard to hear all the lyrics. (Everybody I talked with commented on this, so it wasn't just the acoustics where I was sitting.) Faith and Rebecca were easily heard over the orchestra, but Graham was decidedly muffled most of the time. Things were somewhat better in the second half, though still not ideal.

The show is being recorded in New York later this month and will be released on PS Classics, so I'll have an opportunity to hear it with better sound quality. Even with the sound problems, it was very enjoyable. The only song I really knew was "Let's Take a Walk Around the Block," which is catchy and witty. I think "You're a Builder-Upper" is just as catchy, but the lyrics are a bit too codependent for my tastes. I can't find any fault, however, with "What Can You Say in a Love Song?" and that's the tune I've been humming off and on all day.

Among the women, Faith got the most comic moments. In "My Paramount-Publix-Roxy Rose" she lamented playing flowers in various theatres and in "C'est La Vie" she got to be at the heart of a Noel Coward-esque menage a trois (with Brad Oscar and Christopher Fitzgerald). The failed love story continued with "I Couldn't Hold My Man," which is very much along the same lines as Harold Rome's "Nobody Makes a Pass At Me." And in the finale ("Life Begins at City Hall") she got to play Eleanor Roosevelt.

Brad and Christopher competed for comic honors among the men, with Brad winning out largely for the skit / song "Things!" All four of the men were in the hysterically funny "Quartet Erotica," in which Rabelais, Du Maupassant, Boccaccio and Baudelaire lament that they are no longer shocking and reminisce about when "a lesbian was an islander and not your wife's best friend." I can't quite make up my mind about the line at the end where they sing "we'll go back to our rockers, for we're just four alte kockers." It's funny, but a bit crude and not really in character. My inclination is to give it a thumbs up for creative rhyming.

There's a lot I'm not mentioning, but I'll just say it was a thoroughly delightful evening (even with the sound problems) and I am very much looking forward to being able to buy the recording. It was definitely worth the sleep deprivation of being out late on a weeknight.
Tags: musicals, theatre

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