…much joy and much lovetoday, tomorrow, and always.
Archives for December 24, 2010
Today’s Wall Street Journal drama column is my annual best-of-the-year wrapup: “It’s been a rocky year for American theaterand not just for the accident-prone members of the cast of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. In the musical’s latest mishap, a stunt double was injured during a preview performance on Monday. No doubt his colleagues are starting to wonder whether they ought to look for a safer line of work. Money is tight, playgoers are staying home, donors are saying no and artistic directors are playing it safe, opting for small-cast shows and familiar comedies instead of hard-hitting drama. Yet there was still more than enough to see as I criss-crossed the land in search of great shows.”
Among other things, I single out Gordon Edelstein’s breathtakingly fresh and poignant production of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie (pictured here) as the best revival of the year and Chicago’s TimeLine Theatre as the company of the year:
Chicago’s TimeLine Theatre, which specializes in “stories inspired by history,” outdid itself with better-than-the-original productions of Aaron Sorkin’s “The Farnsworth Invention” and Peter Morgan’s “Frost/Nixon” performed in its own 87-seat theater, showing that a small troupe with creativity and nerve to burn can make as much magic as a big-ticket Broadway extravaganza….
To find out what what else I liked in 2010, go here.
In today’s “Sightings” column for The Wall Street Journal, I write about Archeophone Records’ There Breathes a Hope: The Legacy of John Work II and His Fisk Jubilee Quartet, 1909-1916. Here’s an excerpt.
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Century-old records are the closest thing we have to a time machine. To listen to the voice of Theodore Roosevelt or the piano playing of Claude Debussy is to feel the years falling away like autumn leaves from a maple tree. Rarely, though, have I been so engrossed by an album remastered from antique 78s as I was by “There Breathes a Hope: The Legacy of John Work II and His Fisk Jubilee Quartet, 1909-1916,” an anthology released by Archeophone Records. This two-CD set, which also includes a profusely illustrated 100-page booklet, contains 43 of the first recordings of black spirituals. It is the most important historical reissue of 2010–and one that tells a story about turn-of-the-century black culture that may make some listeners squirm with retrospective discomfort.
Nashville’s Fisk University, which opened its doors in 1866, is one of America’s oldest historically black colleges. It is also known to scholars of American music as the home of the Fisk Jubilee Singers, an ensemble founded in 1871 that introduced concertgoers around the world to such deathless songs of sorrow and hope as “There Is a Balm in Gilead” and “Roll Jordan Roll,” in the process raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for the inadequately funded school. The original Fisk Jubilee Singers disbanded before the invention of the phonograph, but in 1899 John Work II, a teacher at Fisk, reorganized the group, and a male quartet drawn from the chorus started making recordings for the Victor Talking Machine Company in 1909.
No matter how much you think you know about spirituals, I think you’ll be surprised to hear these performances, because few of them sound anything like what you’re likely to be expecting. Their musical tone is formal, sometimes even a bit staid, as if you were hearing four gentlemen in high-button shoes warbling close-harmony hymns in the parlor. Not always–the quartet tosses off the syncopations in the up-tempo tunes with a light, dancing touch–but it’s downright startling to hear them sing “CHAH-ree-AHT” in the very first recording of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” No less surprising is that they recorded “Old Black Joe,” one of Stephen Foster’s nostalgic plantation songs, at their third session….
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Read the whole thing here.
Louis Armstrong recites “The Night Before Christmas”:
“Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childish days; that can recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth; that can transport the sailor and the traveller, thousands of miles away, back to his own fire-side and his quiet home!”
Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers