The Greatest Musicals

March 31, 2013

On Saturday, the Times published in its Magazine section a listing of the 30 best ever musicals. It also published a leading article on the subject. My first thought on reading the articles was that it is a good thing indeed that this often neglected art form is treated seriously by a quality newspaper. I know people who proudly boast that they have never seen a musical in their life believing them to be unworthy of their intellectual attention. They fail to realise of course, that anyone of true intellect would try something at least once before rushing to judgement.

The list in the Times was compiled by a panel of its arts critics and of course was bound to be highly subjective. The result was also going to depend on how wide the parameters were set. The Times included film musicals, something I would not do. Nor would I have included “juke box” musicals which would have disqualified “Mamma Mia.” Yes,“Mamma Mia” is great fun but please, let us not mention it in the same breath as “West Side Story” or “My Fair Lady.”

So how would I define a great musical? Well first of all it must be an original production for which the book, music and lyrics were specifically written. Then, it must be a show which has stood the test of time, one that is constantly being revived and enjoyed by new generations of theatregoers. Finally, it is one whose music lives on, giving as much pleasure today as it did when it was first heard. After all, what is the point of a musical if the music is instantly forgettable? Using these criteria, I have compiled my own list of great musicals, one which I have confined to just twelve.

1. Carousel. Time magazine described the second Rodgers and Hammerstein production as the greatest musical of the 20th Century and I agree. A magical blend of all the theatrical arts, book, music, lyrics and dance; to me it is perfection and Richard Rodgers’ music remains not only his greatest score but the greatest ever.

2. Oklahoma! The first Rodgers and Hammerstein musical deserves it high-ranking not only because it is still one of the all time greats, but because it was the show that changed everything. Had there been no “Oklahoma!” there would have been none of the other great shows that followed. Previously, with Lorenz Hart, Rodgers had always composed the music first. Now, he set Hammerstein’s lyrics to music, thereby letting the story and the characters dictate the nature of the music making the piece one dramatic whole.

3. West Side Story. The Bernstein/Sondheim classic is another show which combines superbly all the dramatic arts and would be many people’s choice as the greatest ever. As I said earlier, any list like this, is a very personal one but it is a very close call.

4. My Fair Lady. Not only did Lerner and Lowe create a fabulous score, but they had the genius to give Shaw’s wit equal prominence thereby ensuring that this is one of the shows that will live forever.

5. South Pacific. When you talk about great scores, then this one from Rodgers and Hammerstein comes immediately to mind. Not only a great score but in 1949 a controversial one too, including as it does the anti racism song “Carefully Taught.” Many people wanted them to leave the song out but R&H stuck to their guns, even when it meant the show being banned from some Southern states.

6. The King and I. Another wonderful Rodgers and Hammerstein score built on a strong book. Again the pair were prepared to defy convention with the hero dying in the final scene.

7. Guys and Dolls. Frank Loesser’s superb music and lyrics and Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows book make this adaptation of Damon Runyan’s stories of New York night life one of most enjoyable of Broadway musicals.

8. Show Boat. The 1927 Jerome Kern, Oscar Hammerstein musical was perhaps the first musical to give prominence to the book, and of course it contains, among other classic songs, “Old Man River.”

9. The Music Man. This is the only show in my list not based on an existing book or play. Meredith Willson’s tuneful and joyous story has to be in my top ten.

10. Fiddler on the Roof. Written by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick and based on Sholem Aleichem’s “Tevye and his Daughters” this is in every way a Broadway classic.

11. A Chorus Line. Marvin Hamlisch and Edward Kleban’s backstage musical currently enjoying a revival in the west End is certainly worthy of a place on this list. Great music and biting, witty lyrics.

12. Cabaret. The John Kander, Fred Ebb, Joe Masreroff 1966 musical was a wonderful portrayal of sleazy, pre war Berlin. An excellent book and evocative tunes ensures a place on this or any list of Broadway’s best musicals

This then is my list. There are shows that were worthy of consideration but did not quite made it. “Funny Girl”, for example and “Kiss Me Kate”. “Gypsy”, “Camelot”,and “Annie Get Your Gun”. Nor did the one British contender from the “golden age”, Lionel Bart’s “Oliver!” I feel guilty for leaving out “The Sound of Music.” Rodgers and Hammerstein’s final show was not their greatest. Hammerstein was dying when they wrote it. But even when not at their best, they could still write a marvellous score and a show that would form the basis of the most popular film musical of all time.

With the exception of “Show Boat” I have not included anything from the twenties and thirties. That meant leaving out all the Gershwin shows and those by Irving Berlin, Cole Porter and Rodgers and Hart. All these shows were full of great songs but for the most part, “Pal Joey” is an exception, the plots were frivolous nonsense and songs could be, and indeed were, frequently taken out of one show to be used in another.

I also feel somewhat guilty at leaving out all of Jerry Herman’s shows but, tuneful though they are, I fear they just did not match the standard of the really outstanding shows that I included. Sondheim fans will be outraged at the omission of any of his shows but I make no apology. In my opinion he should have stuck to writing lyrics. As for the more modern shows such as “Les Miserables” and “Phantom of the Opera,” whilst I enjoyed them both, I feel that they are different types of shows, and cannot properly be compared with those earlier classics.

The Times has provided a timely reminder that at its best, Broadway’s great songwriters provided a number of theatrical masterpieces, genuine works of art that hopefully will live on forever.

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Another Case of Anti-Semitism

March 14, 2013

There are many people who claim that we Jews are too quick to cry “anti-Semitism” whenever we see or hear something we do not like. Perhaps there is some validity in that claim, perhaps not. What is certain is that no-one can be accused of over reacting to the outrageous statements made by labour Peer, Lord Ahmed.

This is the man who in 2007 drove at speeds of up to seventy miles an hour on the M1 whilst simultaneously receiving and sending text messages, before driving into the back of a stationary vehicle killing the occupant. He was jailed for 12 weeks but served only 16 days on the ground that prison would hinder his work to promote conciliation between Muslims and non-Muslims.

All non-Muslims except Jews that it is. Because it now transpires that Lord Ahmed, a British parliamentarian has stated in a broadcast in Pakistan that HE was the victim of a Jewish conspiracy. Never mind that he killed a man; never mind that he put at risk the lives of countless others whilst texting on the motorway. No, his conviction and sentence was the result of a conspiracy by a cabal of those nasty Jews who control the press and the media.

When it comes to Jew hatred Lord Ahmed has form. In 2005 he hosted a book launch in the House of Lords for a man who calls himself Israel Shamir – who is also a Swedish-domiciled anti-Semite called Jöran Jermas.

There was a lot of unpleasant language used at that launch – this is just one piece. “In the Middle East we have just one reason for wars, terror and trouble — and that is Jewish supremacy drive.”

This is the company Lord Ahmed likes to keep. This is the kind of man he considers worthy of a platform in the Mother of Parliaments. The Labour Party suspended him then, but only for a short time. Today, to their credit, they have suspended him again. We shall see if this time it is permanent. If not it will be to their eternal shame.

The Liberal Democrats thus far have taken no effective action against their own anti-Semitic MP, David Ward after his disgusting comments on Holocaust Memorial Day, demonstrating once more how vastly different is the way outbursts against Jews are dealt with compared to those against other minorities, particularly Muslims. There is in this country a casual acceptance of anti-Semitism that I find difficult to understand and am loath to accept.

How long I wonder will this attitude be allowed to continue? Anti-Semitism is no less offensive and no less hurtful than Islamophobia and should be treated in exactly the same way and with the same degree of urgency. Perhaps it is partly our own fault. We have a tendency to like to keep our head down and to not want to rock the boat. If attitudes are to change we need to change as well and let people know that if you prick us, we do indeed bleed. We need to ensure that government, the media and everyone else know that if Britain wants to maintain its reputation as the most welcoming home to ALL minorities, it must understand that its Jewish citizens demand to be treated no less fairly than everyone elses.


Bring Football into the Twenty-FIrst Century NOW

March 6, 2013

As a Spurs supporter I can view last night’s red card incident at Old Trafford with a certain degree of detachment, notwithstanding the several miscarriages of justice we have suffered at that same ground in recent years.

I have viewed the incident many times and still find it a hard one to call. On balance, because there was clearly no malicious intent by Nani, I think a yellow card would have been sufficient punishment, but equally understand why the referee decided on red.

The point I wish to make though, is that the anger of Sir Alex Ferguson and the Manchester United supporters in being targeted at the referee is being aimed in the wrong direction. It was an extremely difficult call; you have only to look at the split amongst the pundits to realise that. If they cannot agree, that is as clear an indication as you could find, that this was not an easy decision. Referees need help, and that help is available to them now if only football’s governing bodies would let them uae it. The real villain of the piece is not poor Mr. Cakir, but the stone age dinosaurs at FIFA and UEFA who sit in their ivory towers in Switzerland refusing to bring football into the twenty-first century. Yes, at least we will have goal-line technology next season, but that it is nowhere near enough.

Imagine, last night, if whilst Arbeloa was receiving treatment, the referee had been allowed to go to the fourth official and review Nani’s challenge on the TV monitor he has in front of him: he could have reviewed it from several angles, all in a matter of seconds. He might still have considered it as worthy of a red card, or he might not. Either way, it would have been a reasoned decision and not one made in an instant, based on a single split second view of the action.

If tennis, rugby and cricket can successfully employ modern technology, why can’t football, the most popular sport on the planet? The arguments used against it do not stand up to even the slightest scrutiny.

Another point. Mr. Cakir, the referee last night is an insurance salesman in his native Turkey. With the billions of pounds that is floating around in Football today, how is it possible that such an important game was under the control of a part-time official? Surely, FIFA and UEFA can find the cash to employ a panel of full-time, highly trained referees to officiate at these top-level matches. That measure, together with the use of technology would do so much to reduce the errors that are such a blight on the modern game.

The late Liverpool manager Bill Shankley famously said “football is not a matter of life and death, it is more important than that.” Given all that is at stake in the game today, those words have never been more true.

That makes it all the more important that as much as possible is done as soon as possible to eliminate these never-ending, high-profile errors by officials . If a player misses a penalty, so be it. No – one outside the club can be blamed. But let us be a hundred percent sure it was a penalty in the first place!