Skip navigation

Tag Archives: Broadway

Stephen Sondheim (b. 1935) is a New York native and one of the most celebrated composers of musical theatre.  He began his career under the mentorship of Oscar Hammerstein II, one of the great names of 20th century Broadway.  Sondheim got an early career break writing the lyrics for Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story in 1957.  He has since had a distinguished career that has encompassed almost two dozen musicals, many of which have been made into films, including A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1962), A Little Night Music (1973), Sweeney Todd (1979), Sunday in the Park with George (1984), and Into the Woods (1986).  He has won more Tony Awards (8) than any other composer.

Into the Woods, with music by Sondheim and book and lyrics by James Lapine, debuted on Broadway in 1987.  It tells the story of a childless Baker and the Baker’s Wife, who are cursed by an evil Witch.  Their adventures intersect several fairy tale stories by the Brothers Grimm, including Rapunzel, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, and Jack and the Beanstalk.  The original production won Tony Awards for Best Original Score, Best Book, and Best Actress in a Musical (Joanna Gleason). The musical has been revived several times around the world.  In 2014, it was released as a movie version by the Walt Disney company.

Stephen Bulla’s band arrangement of Selections from Into the Woods covers four of the numbers from the musical, including “Into the Woods,” “No One Is Alone,” “I Know Things Now,” and “Children Will Listen.”  Here it is in live performance:

To give you an idea of the visuals, here is a preview reel from the Public Theater‘s production in 2012.  This also includes a substantial portion of the song “Into the Woods” that opens the medley:

Here is “No One Is Alone” from a 1989 PBS special that filmed the original Broadway production:

Next, “I Know Things Now” from the 2014 Disney movie version:

Finally, “Children Will Listen” sung in concert by Bernadette Peters, one of the great Sondheim interpreters and Into the Woods‘s original Broadway Witch:

Bonus: my personal favorite song from the musical, which did not make the Selections: “Agony!”

Read more about Into the Woods on Wikipedia and IMDB.  Sondheim has tributes everywhere and then some, but a look at his Wikipedia page will give you plenty of insight into the man and the artist.

Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) was an erudite, passionate musician whose exceptional talents and expressive gifts earned him a special place in the hearts of New Yorkers.  His rose to instant national fame in 1943, at age 25, when he filled in for the suddenly ill Bruno Walter as conductor of a nationally televised New York Philharmonic performance.  He went on to become the Philharmonic’s music director until 1969, and remained a frequent guest conductor there until his death.  With the Philharmonic, he presented a series of 53 educational Young People’s Concerts which were broadcast on CBS, making him a familiar face around the nation.  He also composed music, crossing from academic classical music into Broadway musicals, including West Side StoryOn the Town, and Candide.

The Broadway musical West Side Story first came into being in 1957 as a collaboration between Bernstein (as composer), choreographer Jerome Robbins, writer Arthuer Laurents, and lyricist Stephen Sondheim.  Its story is based on William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.  Set in the 1950s on Manhattan’s West Side, it tells the tragic tale of Tony and Maria, whose rival gangs doom their young love.  The musical became a film in 1961, winning 10 Academy Awards including Best Picture.  Bernstein’s music was often a character itself, giving the film psychological direction in many long dance sequences.  Originally written in English, West Side Story was recently revived on Broadway in a bilingual version, with the Puerto Rican Sharks speaking and singing mostly in Spanish while the white Jets retain their English.

This set of West Side Story Selections comprises sort of a greatest hits collection from the musical.  It is a single movement that transitions smoothly from one tune to the next, focusing on the most popular melodies from the musical.  Here it is in full:

While the playing on that recording is excellent, some of those tempos are flatly bizarre, so do not take that recording as gospel.  Instead, take a listen to the songs as they appear in the film version.  The medley starts with “I Feel Pretty”, Maria’s crazy-in-love song:

Next up is “Maria”, which Tony sings after meeting her for the first time:

This segues to “Something’s Coming”, Tony’s song from early in the film in which he expresses his feelings of endless, unknowable possibilities in front of him:

This is followed by another song of anticipation, “Tonight”, in which Tony and Maria sing of the excitement of their newly discovered feelings:

It is used again later in the climactic number leading up to the Jets’ and Sharks’ big confrontation:

Maria and Tony play at getting married (and it gets rather serious), and they sing “One Hand, One Heart”:

After the rumble, in which each gang has lost a member, the Jets regroup and sing “Cool”, reminding each other to play it cool despite their intense anxiety and anger:

The medley ends with “America”, in which the Puerto Ricans sing of the promise (and pitfalls) of their new life in New York (the song proper starts about 3 minutes in):

There is much material about both Bernstein and West Side Story on the web.  The survey below only scratches the surface.

Leonardbernstein.com – a true treasure trove of everything Bernstein, including many personal reflections by friends, relatives, and colleagues.

Leonard Bernstein on Wikipedia.

The Leonard Bernstein Collection at the US Library of Congress.

A lengthy and heartfelt essay on Bernstein and his influence at classicalnotes.net.

West Side Story main website.  Includes information on performances all over the world, lyrics to the songs, and other information.

West Side Story the musical on Wikipedia.

West Side Story new Broadway production website.

Preview of West Side Story book (for the musical) on Google Books.

Objectively, Les Misérables stands as a genuine cultural phenomenon of 3 different centuries: it was originally a hugely popular novel by Victor Hugo, first published in 1862; it was adapted into a French language musical by composer Claude-Michel Schönberg and lyricists Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel in 1980, then translated into English by Herbert Kretzmer for a still-running London production in 1985, followed by a 1987 Broadway production that won 8 Tony Awards and set records for the length of its run; in 2012 that musical was adapted into a film, which won 3 Oscars, including Best Supporting Actress for Anne Hathaway as Fantine.

It tells the story of Jean Valjean, who is about to be released from prison as the story opens.  Valjean violates his parole and starts his life anew as a good man, only to be pursued for by Javert, a justice-obsessed police inspector.  These two and the many other characters are set against the backdrop of the French Revolution, culminating in the last stand of a band of young revolutionaries (one of whom is in love with Valjean’s adopted daughter) at a street barricade during the 1832 Paris Uprising, 17 years after the story begins.

The music from Les Misérables has become well known all over the world, and has been arranged for band many times.  The arrangement we are playing was done by Warren Barker in 1987, right when the musical first hit Broadway.  Here it is, played by the Acadian Wind Symphony:

One note: I am not a fan of drum set parts in symphonic music, even semi-pop tunes like this, so we will leave them out of our performance.

To go to the source, here are some performances of the songs in the arrangement.  It starts with “At the End of the Day”, a primarily choral number which depicts the misery of the lower classes in early 19th-century Paris.  This performance comes from the musical’s 10th anniversary concert staging at London’s Royal Albert Hall:

“I Dreamed a Dream” is Fantine’s solo about her unfulfilled dreams, sung as she faces the darkest days of her life, having lost her job and her daughter and been forced into prostitution.  This is Anne Hathaway’s Oscar-winning performance, intercut with other scenes from the film:

“Master of the House” is our introduction to the Thénardiers, a corrupt innkeeper and his wife who have been caring for Fantine’s daughter, Cosette (and taking her money) while neglecting her and showering gifts on their own daughter, Éponine.  This performance comes from the 2006 Broadway revival.  The meat of the song starts around 1:00:

The teenage Éponine sings “On My Own” as she realizes and accepts that the revolutionary leader, Marius, is in love with Cosette rather than her.  Sung by one of the classic Éponines, Linzi Hateley:

“Do You Hear the People Sing” is the big choral number in which the young revolutionaries rally the people of Paris to their cause.  Here it is as sung by 17 different Valjeans from around the world:

Kurt Weill (1900-1950) was a German composer whose musical theatre works have come to exemplify the Weimar Republic period in Germany.  He was born in Dessau to Jewish parents.  By World War I, when he was a teenager, he was a professional theatre accompanist.  He studied composition in Berlin, composing standard instrumental fare like tone poems and an orchestral suite.  In the 1920s, he began to make his mark on German music with theatrical pieces that played with American dance rhythms.  In many of these works he collaborated with the writer and political activist Bertolt Brecht.  His fortunes turned sour in the early 1930s, as the new Nazi regime ramped up a propaganda campaign against his popular, politically subversive works.  He fled first to Paris in 1933, then to the United States in 1935.  In America, he continued his successful career as a music theatre composer, collaborating with Ira Gershwin and Langston Hughes, among others.  He was still active on the Broadway scene when he died of a heart attack at age 50.

One of Weill’s most famous pieces was Die Dreigroschenoper (The Threepenny Opera).  He wrote the music in 1928 to words by Bertolt Brecht, based on The Beggar’s Opera by John Gay.  It tells the story of Macheath (Mack the Knife), a murderer in Victorian London.  In the spirit of the Weimar Republic, it also lampooned German society and capitalism.  It was one of the most popular works of the period: within five years, it had been translated into 18 languages and performed more than 10,000 times in Europe.  It had also attracted the attention of the serious music establishment in Germany.  Just four months after its premiere, conductor Otto Klemperer commissioned Weill to create a concert suite from the opera in the tradition of opera suites for winds from Mozart’s day.  Titled Little Threepenny Music (Kleine Dreigroschenmusik), Weill’s suite retains all of the unique character of the opera, with instrumentation that includes saxophones, a rudimentary drum set, and combination of guitar, banjo, and bandoneon among the more traditional wind instruments.  He even added some musical material, presumably because the original opera was written for actors who happened to sing rather than trained singers.  The suite comes in 8 movements:

I. Overture
II. The Moritat of Mack the Knife
III. The Instead-of Song
IV. The Ballad of the Easy Life
V. Polly’s Song
Va. Tango
VI. Cannon Song
VII. Threepenny Finale

The Ball State University Wind Ensemble plays the whole suite, bandoneon and all:

The number “Mack the Knife” took on a life of its own as a jazz standard and pop song with worldwide popularity that persists today.  Louis Armstrong is among the many renowned musicians to have recorded a version of the song:

I have to admit, when I think of Kleine Dreigroschenmusik, I can’t help but think of this:

And this:

both of which were certainly influenced by Weill’s work.

Read up on Kurt Weill on Wikipedia and the Kurt Weill Foundation for Music.  More info on The Threepenny Opera can be found at Wikipedia and its own website, run by the same Kurt Weill Foundation.  There is also a great entry on Little Threepenny Music at the Wind Repertory Project.

I have to confess: I still haven’t seen Wicked, despite having lived in New York for all of its run.  So I can’t give as full and deep a treatment of this as I probably should.  That’s sort of OK, since I’m not the conductor on this one for the Columbia Summer Winds 2011 season – that would be my good friend Bill Tonissen.

Here’s what I do know about Wicked, based on being around it for almost 8 years (and a little internet research): it’s a Broadway musical based on a novel of the same name (by Gregory Maguire) that imagines the story of The Wizard of Oz from the perspective of the Wicked Witch of the West.  It gives her a sympathetic backstory and a name (Elphaba).  I also know that Wicked is hugely successful, having run on Broadway since 2003, and with no signs of closing.  The music (by Stephen Schwartz) seems to be everywhere – I have several friends who claim it among their favorites.

Jay Bocook uses several of the highlights from the musical to piece together his 9-minute Selections.  Here they are, as played by a Hawaiian band:

Now, some original Wicked action – “Defying Gravity” at the Tonys with the original cast members:

And, for good measure, the Broadway production page and wikipedia page for Wicked.

Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) was an erudite, passionate musician whose exceptional talents and expressive gifts earned him a special place in the hearts of New Yorkers.  His rose to instant national fame in 1943, at age 25, when he filled in for the suddenly ill Bruno Walter as conductor of a nationally televised New York Philharmonic performance.  He went on to become the Philharmonic’s music director until 1969, and remained a frequent guest conductor there until his death.  With the Philharmonic, he presented a series of 53 educational Young People’s Concerts which were broadcast on CBS, making him a familiar face around the nation.  He also composed music, crossing from academic classical music into Broadway musicals, including West Side StoryOn the Town, and Candide.

The Broadway musical West Side Story first came into being in 1957 as a collaboration between Bernstein (as composer), choreographer Jerome Robbins, writer Arthuer Laurents, and lyricist Stephen Sondheim.  Its story is based on William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.  Set in the 1950s on Manhattan’s West Side, it tells the tragic tale of Tony and Maria, whose rival gangs doom their young love.  The musical became a film in 1961, winning 10 Academy Awards including Best Picture.  Bernstein’s music was often a character itself, giving the film psychological direction in many long dance sequences.  Originaly written in English, West Side Story is currently being revived on Broadway in a bilingual version, with the Puerto Rican Sharks speaking and singing mostly in Spanish while the white Jets retain their English.

Four Dances from West Side Story features some of the highlights of these dance sequences transcribed for band.  The “Scherzo” is a light-hearted, care-free movement that aptly opens the suite.  The “Mambo” comes from the gym scene where the Jets and the Sharks meet and dance while trying to suppress their hostility towards each other.  The “Mambo” fades into the “Cha-Cha” as Tony and Maria notice each other for the first time and dance together, transfixed.  The anxiety-ridden “Fugue” is based on material from the song “Cool”, in which the Jets are convincing each other to bottle up their overwhelming emotions.  The fugue’s subject is a 12-tone row, lending a worrisome and tense feeling to the movement.  Each new statement of the theme adds more layers until the texture explodes into a percussion-heavy statement of the main theme from “Cool”.

There is much material about both Bernstein and West Side Story on the web.  The survey below only scratches the surface.

Leonardbernstein.com – a true treasure trove of everything Bernstein, including many personal reflections by friends, relatives, and colleagues.

Leonard Bernstein on Wikipedia.

The Leonard Bernstein Collection at the US Library of Congress.

A lengthy and heartfelt essay on Bernstein and his influence at classicalnotes.net.

West Side Story main website.  Includes information on performances all over the world, lyrics to the songs, and other information.

West Side Story the musical on Wikipedia.

West Side Story new Broadway production website.

Preview of West Side Story book (for the musical) on Google Books.

Website of Ian Polster, arranger.

And now, some YouTube action:

Aside from the fact that they don’t shout “MAMBO!” and some mistaken rhythms at the beginning of “Cool”, this is a really nice performance of the Four Dances:

The movie version of “Cool”, featuring the bits we play from about 1:30-4:00.

Gym scene, featuring bits of our “Mambo” and “Cha-Cha” (starting around 2:54):

This piece was a Senior Choice for clarinetist Angelica Ortega ’05.

The 2008 revival of South Pacific was a Broadway sensation.  The production won seven 2008 Tony awards (out of eleven nominations) and enjoyed great popular and critical support in its run at the Lincoln Center Theatre.  The musical tackles issues of racial prejudice against the backdrop of the American war effort in the South Pacific during World War II.

The original Broadway production premiered in 1950 and won all ten Tony Awards for which it was nominated.  It also received the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1950.  It was the fifth collaboration between composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II.  They based their work on two short stories by James A. Michener from his book Tales from the South Pacific.

This video of Harry Connick Jr. introducing the 2008 Tony Award performance pretty much sums up the show’s cultural and musical value:

Now some other links:

Richard Rodgers biography on Wikipedia.

Oscar Hammerstein biography on Wikipedia.

Rodgers & Hammerstein on Wikipedia.

Arranger Robert Russell Bennett biography on Wikipedia.

South Pacific on Wikipedia

Broadway revival homepage

New York Times review of Broadway revival.

Finally, a bonus video: “Some Enchanted Evening” very convincingly performed on The View in 2008:

Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) was an erudite, passionate musician whose exceptional talents and expressive gifts earned him a special place in the hearts of New Yorkers.  He rose to instant national fame in 1943, at age 25, when he filled in for the suddenly ill Bruno Walter as conductor of a nationally televised New York Philharmonic performance.  He went on to become the Philharmonic’s music director until 1969, and remained a frequent guest conductor there until his death.  With the Philharmonic, he presented a series of 53 educational Young People’s Concerts which were broadcast on CBS, making him a familiar face around the nation.  He also composed music, crossing from academic classical music into Broadway musicals, including West Side StoryOn the Town, and Candide.

Bernstein’s operetta Candide (1956) is based on the French philosopher Voltaire’s satirical 1759 novella of the same name.  Candide is an innocent young man who lives in a sheltered paradise.  He is mentored by Dr. Pangloss, who believes that they live in “the best of all possible worlds.”  This optimistic principal is tested to the breaking point as Candide is cast out of his reverie into one abhorrent trial after another.  By the story’s end, he has seen everything he ever loved wither away amidst death, destruction, and deceit on a massive scale all over the world.  He finally amends his life’s philosophy to the more pragmatic “let us cultivate our garden.”  The story amounts to a thorough skewering of the then-fashionable optimistic philosophy, with a few jokes at the expense of government, religion, and society thrown in for good measure.  Voltaire’s original version is one of the most widely-taught pieces of literature in the Western canon.  Bernstein’s operetta, though not a success in its first incarnation, is a staple in the repertoire of opera companies around the world.

The Overture to Candide is the most famous excerpt of the operetta.  It is played hundreds of times all over the world every year.  It is considered to be sort of the theme song of Bernstein’s beloved New York Philharmonic, who have played it without a conductor ever since his death.  2 band transcriptions exist, one by Walter Beeler, the other by Clare Grundman (we’re playing the Beeler).

Video 1: Band version (the ending gets away from them a bit).

Video 2: Bernstein himself conducts it!

The Candide Suite was arranged by Clare Grundman.  Its five movements each are based on one number from the operetta: “The Best of all Possible Worlds”, “Westphalia Chorale and Battle Music”, “Auto-da-fe”, “Glitter and Be Gay”, and “Make Our Garden Grow”.

Columbia Summer Winds only did the final movement of the suite, “Make Our Garden Grow”.  So here is the band version as realized by Grundman, a good performance but perhaps a bit quick for my taste:

Now a concert performance of the actual opera version, with Bernstein himself conducting.  The sound is a bit out of sync with the video, and the volume level is quite low, but crank it up (no really, CRANK IT UP!!) and it’s absolutely worth it, a truly, deeply moving experience:

Now some links:

Leonardbernstein.com – a true treasure trove of everything Bernstein, including many personal reflections by friends, relatives, and colleagues.

Leonard Bernstein on Wikipedia.

The Leonard Bernstein Collection at the US Library of Congress.

A lengthy and heartfelt essay on Bernstein and his influence at classicalnotes.net.

Voltaire’s Candide on wikipedia – highly recommended reading!

Full text of Voltaire’s Candide at literature.org – also recommended reading!

Sparknotes version of Candiderecommended for both its summary and its rather in-depth analysis.  I think it’s longer than the book itself!

Candide the operetta on wikipedia.

Candide the drinking game – bonus for those of you who got down this far.

Overture to Candide is a 2011 senior choice for hornist and CUWE Vice-President Carmen Sheills.