Today is “Grab Bag” day here at Entertainment Legends Revealed, where each week we feature a different area of the world of arts and entertainment (that is not featured on the other four days of the week, that is). Each week you will see grab bag legends from one of these following 25 “Grab Bag” categories (I might expand the list in the future, but for now, we’re sticking with these 25).
This is the second in a series of examinations of legends related to musical theater and whether they are true or false.
MUSICAL LEGEND: Andrew Lloyd Webber had a hit dance single on the British charts in 1992 with a song about Tetris (featuring music from the video game).
Whatever else you might think of Andrey Lloyd Webber, you have to give the guy some credit for just how eclectic he has been in his pursuits.
Already famous for his musicals Evita and Cats, Webber entered a whole other stratosphere of fame when he released his musical Phantom of the Opera in 1986
Lloyd Webber was now perhaps the most famous musical composer in the world.
In 1992, he was knighted by the Queen of England (five years later, he became a Baron).
In 1992, Webber had another, perhaps less noble, distinction to his long line of distinctions – he had a top ten hit on the UK Singles chart with, of all things, a dance song!
That’s odd enough, but even better, the dance song was called….”Tetris.”
Andrew Lloyd Webber and record producer Nigel Wright got together to release a Eurodance version of the theme song to the video game, Tetris (where players have to manuever shapes to form solid lines), under the alias “Doctor Spin.”
Here’s the CD version of the single, as well as the vinyl version…
Doctor Sping never had another hit single.
Then again, has Webber had a hit musical since then, either?
Maybe Tim Rice should give the Doctor Spin name a try….
MUSICAL LEGEND: Into the Woods was almost made into a film by Jim Henson Productions.
Into the Woods was Stephen Sondheim’s second straight classic musical that had unfortunate timing on the year in which is was released. Sondheim’s previous musical, Sunday in the Park With George, ended up losing the Best Musical Tony Award to La Cage aux Folles, and Into the Woods had the misfortune to come out the same year as Phantom of the Opera.
Still, Into the Woods still held its own when it came to award season, and actually beat Phantom for the Drama Desk Award for Best Musical, plus won the Tony for Best Book, Best Score and Best Lead Actress in a Musical. However, Phantom won the Tony Award for Best Musical.
Into the Woods was still a commercial success, though, and it’s really one of the more crowd-pleasing of Sondheim’s musicals, except perhaps some of the downbeat aspects of the Second Act.
The musical is loosely inspired by Bruno Bettelheim’s book about fairy tales, The Uses of Enchantment…
It follows a group of various characters from Grimm’s Fairy Tales, including Jack (of Jack and the Beanstalk fame), Cinderella, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, the Big Bad Wolf and more than one Prince Charming.
It’s one of Sondheim’s more accessible stories, so it should not be a big surprise that it was optioned for a film. But perhaps it a bit of a surprise to see WHO did the optioning – Jim Henson Pictures!
Originally, the film was optioned in 1993 by Sony, and a script for it was written by the same writing team as City Slickers!
Sondheim.com gives the details about the script:
The story basically follows that of the show’s first act, although the story unfolds in a different manner, without a narrator or a Mysterious Man.
Several confusions of the play have been fixed. For example, Rapunzel is no longer related to the Baker, nor does she give birth to twins, so the question of why the family curse didn’t affect her has been erased.
At the end of the first “act,” the Giant rises from his fall and goes on a rampage, allowing the rest of the story to unfold more-or-less as it did in Act II of the play. The intricate back stories of the Baker’s father and the witch’s mother have been deleted, eliminating “No More” and changing a bit of “Last Midnight.” There is no “second bean,” so the Baker’s wife’s scenes with Cinderella are fairly different. Finally, at the very end of the movie the wife reappears, having tricked the Giant into thinking she was dead.
In 1996, Sony and Henson Productions formed Jim Henson Pictures, and the project officially went under the heading of Henson Pictures.
Both Penny Marshall and Rob Reiner were attached to the project as directors, and at least one star-studded read-through of the script took place around this time.
However, sadly, the deal never materialized, and Henson Pictures no longer exists.
But still – how awesome would an Into the Woods film with muppets be?!!?
(The answer is “quite awesome”)
MUSICAL LEGEND: Paul Robeson originated the role of Joe (and as a result, first sang the song “Old Man River”) in Show Boat.
One of Paul Robeson’s most famous songs is the Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein song, “Old Man River.”
The song is from the 1927 musical, Show Boat, by Kern and Hammerstein.
They specifically wrote the song for Robeson, and even created the character of “Joe” in the play for him.
So the song was written specifically for Robeson (it really works beautifully for his deep voice), it’s his most famous song, so naturally, people presume he performed it for the musical Showboat.
However, he did not.
You see, when it came out in 1927, Show Boat was a bit of an oddity amongst musicals. It was one of the very first musicals to stress the story aspect of the show rather than just the music. It was literally a musical PLAY.
Kern and Hammerstein audtioned the musical for famed producer Florenz Ziegfeld, who absolutely loved the musical.
In fact, he planned to have the musical open up his brand-new theater in Spring of 1927.
However, this was not only different from other musicals in its approach, but also in its scope (it was a very intricate and large set) and its tone (it was not a happy-go-lucky musical), so when it came close to the time to open the musical, Ziegfeld was both worried about the show being ready in time AND if it WERE ready, whether he really wanted to launch his new theatre with something other than a happy musical.
So at the last moment, Ziegfeld instead decided to open the theater with a traditional Follies-style musical, Rio Ruta. The idea was that Rio Ruta would play for a little bit and then Show Boat would step in.
However, Rio Ruta turned out to be a hit, so Show Boat was delayed indefinitely (it ultimately debuted at the very end of December 1927).
Robeson HAD committed to do the show, but when it was delayed indefinitely, he was forced to pull out of the show, so Jules Bledsoe originated the role on Broadway.
Robeson, though, played the role in London in 1928, and he also performed in the 1936 film adaptation…
So that association with the song that has lasted for decades has led to many folks presuming that he did the song in the play, but he did not (at first, at least).
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org