On Friday I pried myself away from Mrs. T and Duke Ellington, flew up to New York, and went directly to Broadway, where I saw The Other Place. The next day I caught back-to-back performances of Picnic and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, which is a lot of thwarted sexuality for one day. On Sunday I saw an off-Broadway matinee, Water by the Spoonful, then headed for LaGuardia and flew from there to Sanibel Island by way of Charlotte, North Carolina.
It was a wildly hectic weekend, though I did manage to get some reading done on the plane. I’ve been making my way through new biographies of two notable men of the theater, Marc Blitzstein and Thornton Wilder, and in the course of reading Howard Pollack’s Marc Blitzstein: His Life, His Work, His World, I ran across a paragraph that I very much wish I’d had at my fingertips while writing Pops. It’s about the version of “Mack the Knife” that Blitzstein wrote for his English-language adaptation of The Threepenny Opera:
Blitzstein found the song’s many renditions “more or less acceptable,” although he thought performers “often weighed down by a self-consciousness amounting to awe.” In 1958, he singled out [Louis] Armstrong’s relese and Turk Murphy’s less successful instrumental version as “having caught, in American terms of course, the sardonic insouciance asked for.” Even earlier, in late 1955, he recommended that Sam Wanamaker, in casting the Street Singer for the London production, listen to Armstrong’s “fabulous” recording: “It brings us absolutely into the world of the work–American in style, of couse, so that an English equivalent should be found.”
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In an excerpt from Satchmo the Great, Edward R. Murrow’s film documentary, Louis Armstrong and the All Stars perform “Mack the Knife” on stage in London in 1956: