Sunday, 3 October 2010


'Something Borrowed' is the fifth programme in my eight-part Radio 2 documentary series, The Musical, presented by Whoopi Goldberg and broadcast at 10:00 pm tomorrow evening.

This episode looks at musicals that have been based on plays and films from those Shakespearian comedies and tragedies that inspired such shows as Kiss Me Kate, The Boys from Syracuse and West Side Story to the musicalisation of popular and iconic movies including Sunset Boulevard and .

Also, since Ms Goldberg is our host, there's mention of Sister Act (hence the feeble pun in the title to this post!), The Lion King (she was the voice of one the cartoon hyenas in the original animated version) and plans for a musical based on another of her movies – Ghost.

In the programme, Liz Robertson (widow of Alan Jay Lerner) reveals how her late husband was never satisfied with one of his lyrics in the My Fair Lady number, 'I Could Have Danced All Night' and Stephen Sondheim tells us why he doesn't rate his lyrics for West Side Story.

You'll also hear Patti Lupone talking about creating the role of Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard on the London stage and how being replaced by Glen Close on Broadway gave an edge to her final performances as the forgotten goddess of the silent screen.

I first saw the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Don Black/Christopher Hampton musical following its 1994 re-vamp when Betty Buckley was playing Norma. And (since YouTube don't have any decent film of Patti Lupone), here is the wonderful Miss B in concert, talking about the role and singing 'As If We'd Never Said Goodbye'...

My favourite moment from this week's show is Don Black recalling how Billy Wilder – who directed and co-wrote the original 1950 movie – attended the opening night of the musical and commented to Messrs Black and Hampton: "You guys were really smart ––you didn't change anything!"

If you miss tomorrow's broadcast, you can catch it on BBC iPlayer for the next seven days.

And, here are a couple of recent reviews of the series each of which – while containing pluses and minuses – are, by and large, pretty fair...

From Radio Review by Gillian Reynolds, Daily Telegraph, 27 September, 2010:

The Musical (Radio 2, Mondays) is a reliable place to turn for demarcation of the gap between knowing and dreaming. This is a major eight-part series, not so much a history as an appreciation, written by Brian Sibley, presented by a different person each week. Last night it was Bill Kenwright, the theatrical producer whose West End version of Cabaret won rave reviews. His theme was musicals that push at the genre’s traditional boundaries, like Oh! What a Lovely War, Hair, La Cage aux Folles and Cabaret. Last week, it was Michael Ball on musicals based on real lives or real episodes in history. Next week it will be Whoopi Goldberg on musicals made from films, Billy Elliot and Sister Act for example.

There is, obviously, going to be a blurring between these categories and there are, as you listen, recurring contributors (Joel Grey, Richard Stilgoe, Tim Rice, Hal Prince). What is marvellous about the series is how many original versions you hear(Angela Lansbury in Sweeney Todd, e.g.) and how widely it ranges.

What is annoying is that the connection between presenter and script seems fitful. I thought this network had got over its annoying habit of employing “star” voices. Alas, I was mistaken. Last night Kenwright seemed to clamp adjectives onto actors he knows (“the lovely…” “the irrepressible…”) which made it sound clumsy. The week before Ball, a naturally vivacious presenter, just put his head down and read. The effect was chilly. As everyone who listens to The David Jacobs Collection (Sundays, Radio 2) should know, these shows should be the stars...
And from 'The Week in Radio' by Jane Thynne, The Independent, 30 September 2010:
Breaking taboos was ... the subject of Radio 2's The Musical, a series I have found enjoyable and infuriating in equal measure. Enjoyable because it involves a great, singable selection of musical hits, infuriating because just as you are yodelling along, the song cuts out after 30 seconds.

At first glance the musical is the last art form – short of knitting or marquetry – you could accuse of avant-garde radicalism, but Bill Kenright's programme, scripted by Brian Sibley, showed that because they appear unthreatening, musicals can effectively challenge taboos. Carousel, for example, was "about violence against women". Oh! What a Lovely War and La Cage aux Folles tackled ideas that would not have been possible in straight theatre.

Then, of course, there was the 1968 hit Hair. The big shocker here was the unprecedented nude tribal-dance scene, though as evidence of how quickly controversy fades, by the end of the run, "The producers thought Hair was becoming a bit tame, so they lifted the lighting a little."


Sheila said...

I never thought I'd find myself in agreement with the Daily Telegraph, but I do agree with Gillian Reynolds especially in her last paragraph. It would be so much better if you were compiler and presenter.

scb said...

I have been enjoying the series immensely, and have learned a great deal as it's gone along. I so appreciate the fact that with BBC iPlayer, I can even listen to episodes again!

One hour on each topic is never enough for me, though - it just whets my appetite, and then it's over. (And leaves me vowing to enlarge my CD library so that I can listen to the songs in their entirety -- thank heavens for YouTube!)

Thanks, Brian, for this wonderful series! (Just in passing, I'm enjoying the presenters, but frankly, would rather the presenter throughout was a certain Brian Sibley. Perhaps my bias is showing?)