Bob Schwartz

Category: Theater

Baseball: You’ve Gotta Have Heart

Damn Yankees - Heart

With the World Series tied at 1-1, it’s a good time to look back to the baseball musical Damn Yankees. Its most famous song, sung in the clubhouse of a losing team, is Heart. (The same trope appears in one of the only really great football movies, The Replacements. Coach Jimmy McGinty (Gene Hackman) is asked by a reporter the secret to his ragged team of replacement players. He just pounds his chest and simply says “Heart”.)

So whether you’re an Indians fan, a Cubs fan, or no fan of baseball whatsoever, here’s some encouragement. You’ve gotta have…. Well, you know.

You’ve gotta have heart
All you really need is heart
When the odds are sayin’ you’ll never win
That’s when the grin should start

You’ve gotta have hope
Mustn’t sit around and mope
Nothin’s half as bad as it may appear
Wait’ll next year and hope

When your luck is battin’ zero
Get your chin up off the floor
Mister you can be a hero
You can open any door, there’s nothin’ to it but to do it

You’ve gotta have heart
Miles ‘n miles n’ miles of heart
Oh, it’s fine to be a genius of course
But keep that old horse
Before the cart
First you’ve gotta have heart

The Road of Life: A New Musical

Road of Life

Some of our greatest and most popular musicals have been set against the background of darkest history. Les Miserables. Miss Saigon. Fiddler on the Roof. Cabaret. In the context of adversity, shining stories of love and human spirit stand out starkly, movingly—and musically.

The German Siege of Leningrad, lasting 900 days between 1941 and 1944, has been relatively ignored when we think about the atrocities of that atrocious war. A million people died over the course of more than two years, and millions of others suffered attacks and depravations that brought them to the brink and marked their lives forever.

Ann Reid writes in Leningrad: The Epic Siege of World War II:

[T]he siege of Leningrad, the deadliest blockade of a city in human history…. Other modern sieges – those of Madrid and Sarajevo – lasted longer, but none killed even a tenth as many people. Around thirty-five times more civilians died in Leningrad than in London’s Blitz; four times more than in the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima put together.

Hope, wrote Emily Dickinson, is the thing with feathers. A songbird who lifted the people of Leningrad during this cold hell was a poet named Olga Burggolts. Each day she broadcast from Leningrad’s only radio station—reporting events, reading her poems, exemplifying the imperative of survival. Just as the siege is too forgotten, so she is not very well-known or celebrated for her achievement. But as much as we may dismiss poetry as an idle pastime, maybe nowhere at no time has a poet done more to affect so many—and to help those people withstand the brutality of history.

The team of Jay Jacques and Mark Chimsky have created a bold and uplifting new musical intertwining this big history with the individual lives, loves, and losses that are its true components. It is an invitation to see this chapter of the not-so-distant past in a new light, one that demonstrates in theater and song how dreams rise from the depths. To find out more, please visit The Road of Life. Read the story, listen to the music, and be inspired.

Darkside: When Philosophy Drama Pink Floyd and Madness Collide

Last week, the most unusual pop album ever was released. That’s an incredible overstatement, literally unbelievable, because who has listened to all those truly out-there albums and how could you possibly contrast and compare them anyway?

Okay, last week, the most philosophical unusual pop album ever was released.

Tom Stoppard, maybe the greatest of all living English-language playwrights, is a longtime Pink Floyd fan, with a special place in his heart for Syd Barrett, the disturbed creator who sparked the group, even after his untimely but unavoidable departure. You may know Stoppard most popularly for his Oscar-winning work as co-writer of Shakespeare in Love. Before and after that, his total embrace of language, philosophy, literature and the overall beautiful strangeness of people led to masterful theatre and, often, radio plays.

When the BBC wanted to mark the 40th anniversary of Dark Side of the Moon, they asked Stoppard to create one of his radio concoctions. The result is Darkside, which integrates dramatic scenes into the music of the album.

Description is futile. Stoppard has always believed that philosophy is a form of play, that you can play philosophy the way you do language and music and entertain with it. Listeners and viewers might also learn something. Here we have clever demonstrations of moral philosophy and discussion of the nature of thought itself; that is, as he keeps pointing out, what he is doing is a thought experiment—as is all creativity. He then asks us and them about the juggler on the radio: there is a juggler on the radio, but not hearing him, how do we know? Do we believe in the juggler?

What is most clear listening to Darkside is not just that Stoppard knows how to play with words and mind, but that Pink Floyd was just as agile doing the same, with the addition of some of the most memorable and popular music of all time. Dark Side of the Moon was on the Billboard 200 chart for 14 years after it was released in 1973, and still hovers near there, 40 million copies later. Thousands still buy it every week and somewhere right now someone is listening and discovering something. Stoppard has devised a valuable appreciation of the weird wonder that is Dark Side, making it just a bit more wonderful. The lunatic is still on the grass and in your head.

All that you touch
And all that you see
All that you taste
All you feel
And all that you love
And all that you hate
All you distrust
All you save
And all that you give
And all that you deal
And all that you buy
Beg, borrow or steal
And all you create
And all you destroy
And all that you do
And all that you say
And all that you eat
And everyone you meet
And all that you slight
And everyone you fight
And all that is now
And all that is gone
And all that’s to come
And everything under the sun is in tune
But the sun is eclipsed by the moon
Eclipse, Dark Side of the Moon

The Ides of March

Julius Caesar - Mercury Theater
Today is the Ides of March, which is the 15th of March in the Roman calendar. (The Ides are a monthly mid-point, between the Nones early in the month and the Kalends on the first day.)

It is the day of Julius Caesar’s assassination in 44 BCE, made forever famous by Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar, where the Soothsayer warns him (twice) to “beware the ides of March”. It did turn out to be a bad day.

Above is a scene from the Mercury Theater’s legendary 1937 presentation of the play in modern dress and sensibility, set by director Orson Welles in Fascist Italy. The theater company was organized by Welles and John Houseman, and this was their first play. In the photo above, Marc Antony (George Coulouris) kneels over the lifeless body of Julius Caesar (Joseph Holland).

Welles was only 22 at the time, but already a rising star. The Mercury Theater, intended as an independent answer to the restrictions placed on Welles by the Federal Theater Project, was really the launch pad for his fame and infamy as a world class artistic iconoclast.

For an entertaining look at this Mercury Theater production and company, at Orson Welles, and at the promises and disappointments of being young, in love, and working for an impossibly wonderful/horrible genius, see Richard Linklater’s Me and Orson Welles (2008).

The movie is underrated and did very poorly at the box office (as did most Welles films). It is a fully-realized and charming fictionalization of a real cultural milestone, with  recreated scenes from the Julius Caesar production and great ensemble acting. The star turn, appropriately, is from Christian McKay as Welles. There have been other attempts to play this part, which is a double challenge, since the Welles persona is so huge and Welles himself did such a good job of playing Orson Welles. McKay is near perfect, for the part and the story; maybe not “Daniel Day Lewis is Abraham Lincoln” (which he was), but still impressive from such a young actor. McKay is currently listed in five movies in production, which he deserves to be.

Christian McKay - Me and Osrson Welles

There is no special Roman designation for the 16th of March, so enjoy the ides while you can.