Theatre Lover's Journal for February 1999

Musicals In The Headlines

by John Kenrick

Three musical theatre news items worth discussing came to light in February. The past, present and future of the musical are involved in these events – and that's what this website is all about.

On Feb.12th, Barbara Walters interviewed Julie Andrews on ABC's 20/20. The key point in the interview was Julie's admission that she has been in denial about the damage recent surgery did to her singing voice. Despite her previous claims to the contrary, Ms. Andrews knows that she will probably never sing again, and is "devastated" by this prospect. I don't think there is a more universally loved and respected performer in musical theatre than Julie Andrews. The reputation she built in the 50's and 60's was re-affirmed by her flawless professional behavior during the Broadway production of Victor/Victoria.

As someone who worked for the managers of that show's pre-Broadway tour, I can personally testify that Ms. Andrews was always a model of what a star should be but so rarely is. As a life-long fan, I can also testify that she has brought countless people many hours of joy. She is one of the brightest stars ever to grace the musical stage and screen. Luckily, many of her finest performances have been preserved on record, video and film. However, the thought that her golden voice has been silenced has broken many hearts – including mine. With Julie, her fans hope that all this is somehow untrue and that she will beat the odds. If she does not, our love and prayers are with her.

On Broadway, the news that Parade is closing leaves Footloose as the only new book musical still in the running for this year's Tony Awards. Footloose has held on despite horrible reviews and poor box office, and some fans have taken a liking to its Vegas-style staging. While the smash-hit dance revue Fosse will probably scoop up the Best Musical award, it now appears that Footloose will win many of the other awards (Book, Score) by default – unless, as in previous years, those awards are cancelled.

It is a sad moment for the theatre. The organizations that sponsor the Tonys have just announced an agreement to keep the awards going for several more years – have we reached the point where the awards are no longer relevant? It is becoming increasingly difficult to find enough musicals in a season to merit giving awards at all – remember a few years ago when Sunset Boulevard won by default, with no competitors in several categories? And just before that when Jerome Robbins Broadway won in a year when there were no competitors for Best Book or Score? When there are only one or two new musicals running, what's the point of claiming a "Best" anything? It's time to consider disbanding awards that have become little more than an annual farce.

Finally, ABC has announced that the long-rumored plans to do a TV version of the musical Mame are coming to fruition, with no less than Barbara Streisand as executive producer. The recent commercial success of new TV productions of Mrs. Santa Claus, Gypsy and Cinderella has shown that musicals do have a profitable audience on American network television, and no one was ever completely satisfied with the screen vewrsion of Mame.

Whether or not Streisand chooses to appear in this new Mame or just handles things behind the scenes, her involvement guarantees that this project will get the publicity it needs to succeed. Those of us who love the musical send three cheers to Ms. Streisand, Jerry Herman, and ABC for agreeing to this project. Keep in mind that South Pacific starring Glenn Close is coming soon.

If South Pacific and Mame both prove to be ratings hits, we may be in for more Broadway classics on the small screen. Hey guys, how about going back to where the TV musical began by taping Cathy Rigby's sensational Peter Pan? For right now, I can hardly wait to see Mame Dennis coax those blues right out of the horn – bring on Mame!

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