Johannes Brahms / Wonderful Town
On this day in classical music: Johannes Brahms’ “Three Intermezzi, Op. 117,” were given their premiere in Vienna in 1893. These late works are part of a collection of works for piano that also includes the “Seven Fantasias, Op. 116,” the “Six Pieces, Op. 118” and “Four Pieces, Op. 119.” Together with the Op. 39 set of “Waltzes,” the “Eight Pieces, Op. 76” and the “Two Rhapsodies, Op. 79,” they form the bulk and musical brilliance of Brahms’ works for piano. Listen to Arthur Rubinstein perform the last of the “Three Intermezzi” in C-Sharp Minor. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W4WrtsUAv80
On this day in the musical theatre: The 2003 revival of Leonard Bernstein’s “Wonderful Town” closed on Broadway in 2005 after a run of 507 performances. Tony Award winner Donna Murphy headed the cast as Ruth Sherwood, a writer trying to find work in New York City after she and her sister Eileen left Ohio for the Big Apple. Bernstein’s score was upbeat and often jazzy, with witty lyrics provided by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. The musical was based on the 1940 play “My Sister Eileen,” which in turn was inspired by a collection of short stories by Ruth McKenney. Watch Murphy and company perform the catchy “Swing” on the 2004 Tony Awards broadcast. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nbT4i8VMtOk
Musical musings: On your knees, citizens of Broadway. A superwoman walks among you. Having established herself as the first lady of musical tragedy — with Tony-winning performances in Stephen Sondheim’s “Passion” and a somber “King and I” — Donna Murphy has now crossed to the sunny side of the street. She makes it very clear, thank you, that this, too, is unconditionally her turf. At last a little happiness in a neighborhood that was starting to look like the Great Dark Way. In the revival of Leonard Bernstein’s “Wonderful Town,” which opened last night at the Al Hirschfeld Theater, Ms. Murphy is giving one of the most dazzlingly accomplished comic performances that you’re ever likely to see in a musical. You would think it impossible for Ms. Murphy to top the number in which Ruth, sent to interview a fleet of Brazilian sailors, becomes the deliriously athletic leader of a conga line. But top it she does in the second act, when Ruth is taught by a chorus of cool downtowners how to speak the language of jazz. At first she’s stilted and fatally lacking in rhythm. But by magical degrees, her body becomes supple and her uptight alto shades into a Louis Armstrong rasp. Suddenly plain old Ruth from Ohio is the heppest, sexiest cat in Greenwich Village. And no matter how long you’ve lived in New York City, you start to see it with the eyes of a new arrival who believes anything is possible here. Ms. Murphy puts the essential wonder in “Wonderful Town.” In falling in love with her, you fall in love with Manhattan all over again. – Ben Brantley in The New York Times
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