Who is The Broadway Baby; do broken bones mend the soul and what do Romeo & Juliet have to do with wine?
The Broadway Baby
Have you ever listened to something, decided you don’t like it and then revisited it years later and realized it’s amazing?
That’s how I feel about Sondheim. His musicals shook up the Broadway norm with discordant progressions, unpredictable pacing and unresolved endings. Suffice it to say, not all of it is pleasing on the ears and it’s not meant to be. Call me a traditionalist, but when I first heard his score of Into the Woods years ago, this jarring quality bothered me and I couldn’t get onto the Sondheim-obsessed band wagon of my musical theatre peers.
That all changed thanks to Bernadette Peters. Recently, I saw her live in concert at the Sergerstrom Center for the Performing Arts, and she shook my perception. Recognized as the Stephen Sondheim poster child, her one-woman show (of mostly Sondheim music) prompted me to delve deeper into his works.
From the lyrics of West Side Story and Gypsy, to his original scores of A Little Night Music, Sunday in the Park with George, Sweeney Todd… Each of his musicals is a unique form of storytelling, with eloquent emphasis on both humor and drama. There’s no doubt he’s a brilliant lyricist, and his melodies evoke anxiety, tears, anger, joy: all of the ingredients needed for storytelling at its finest.
Since she changed my mind about him, I’m going to shift focus to the catalyst.
Bernadette Peters gives each song she sings a soul
There’s more than charisma with Bernadette Peters, there’s a lifetime of incredible talent ranging back to her debut performance in Gypsy (lyrics by Sondheim — the man gets around) at the sprouting age of three!
All of her life, she’s done Broadway musicals, having starred in several Sondheim shows including Into the Woods, and most recently as Mama Rose in Gypsy, coming full circle since the age of three. Along with some film credits, including the film adaptation of Annie, and recently a supporting role in the Amazon series Mozart in the Jungle, she’s known for her one-woman shows.
What’s magical about Bernadette Peters is the nature of her voice and her brave, dynamic sincerity. In concert, it’s just her up there: no set, no props, no one to act off of — just her amidst the musicians, willing to be completely seen. Hats off to powerful women! Watching her live on stage reignited my passion for musicals and instilled a new appreciation for things I’d previously dismissed; helping me to see the world with different eyes.
So which of her versions of Sondheim’s songs to recommend? There are so very many: Children Will Listen. Losing My Mind. Anyone Can Whistle. Not a Day Goes By. But start here: No One Is Alone.
Bernadette Peters is a powerful, talented and sexy performer. She acts the hell out of her songs and is compellingly unafraid to be completely seen
No One Is Alone embodies both strength and vulnerability in a captivating performance by one of the most powerful performers of our day.
Witches can be right
Giants can be good
You decide what’s right
You decide whats good
Someone is on your side
Someone else is not
While you’re seeing your side
Maybe you forgot
They are not alone
No one is alone
With these lyrics, Sondheim reminds us of the balancing polarities of life. Some poeple will like us, some won’t. The world will not always be as it may seem. Things can surprise us and shake our foundations and when we re-look at things, we can realize we’ve been missing out on something remarkable.
Our entire reality can shift if we can remember to see beyond our own perceptions. Sure, we’re walking through this world as individuals, but are our experiences so different?
Bonus video of Bernadette Peters singing Broadway Baby (also by Sondheim) on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson:
Breaking Things Up
Do broken bones mend the soul? — Like chicken soup, only harsher…?
In my second year at university, I was struck by the power of 3’s. I contracted bronchitis and pleurisy, (a thrilling combination of an inflamed lining of the lung and a whooping cough) and these lead to a broken rib. That’s right: cough hard enough and crack!
I was in such bad shape that I had to take an 8 month leave of absence and repeat an entire school year. At the time, I was absolutely devastated: physically, emotionally, mentally. Now though, I view the ordeal as one of the best things that ever happened to me. Why?
The answer is I’m happier for it. I used to be an Hermione Granger, Type A personality: an infinitely stressed perfectionist with a stubborn need to be right. It kept me pretty isolated and miserable.
Sometimes it takes a catastrophe in order to see things clearly
After depressing amounts of bed rest and lots of clarifying therapy sessions, something shifted. The part of me that was always afraid and angry was gradually soothed; massaged out like a tight knot with the oil of introspection and time. It was the first time in my life that I’d slowed down and been forced to really look at who I was and who I wanted to be.
It wasn’t easy. There was a point when I, Hollywood-esque actually stood barefoot on the shore and screamed into the oncoming waves, bellowing with the thunderous crashes of the ocean. It was self-indulgent, sure, and sometimes that’s exactly what’s called for. Plus it was the first time in a long while that I could actually take a deep enough breath to scream. During this ordeal, there was lots of deep-digging, angry letters never sent and far too much stillness. And it was that: the uncomfortable, introspective stillness that made all the difference.
Now, if you ask those who know me, they’d tell you I’m still stubborn. And I’m also pretty easy going now, slow to ruffle and basically happy. I became kinder (to myself first and foremost), which enabled me to be compassionate, generous, level-headed. Trifles don’t jar me in the same way as before.
I couldn’t see it at the time, but the injury shaped me into a better person.
Yoga Challenge: This week, your challenge is to shift your perspective
Think of an experience from your past that devastated you at the time. As children, we are so easily devastated: maybe it’s as simple as a song you used to hate years ago that your brother wouldn’t stop listening to, a meal your mother made you eat; or perhaps you decide to dig deeper into an experience, injury or even a person you didn’t particularly enjoy…
- Start with a mindful breath: holding a sense of gratitude in your heart
- In a state of gratitude, bring this thing, event or person into your mind
- Offer your gratitude to this thing, person or experience. Without needing to control, change or even forgive, simply feel grateful
- Ask yourself how am I a better person for having experienced this? What good is there that I may have missed the first time around?
Life can go by so swiftly, especially when we go around with blinders on, myopically focusing on only ourselves and the beliefs we’ve accrued. Sometimes things are not as we believed them to be and we just never took the time to reconsider. When considering beyond our own perceptions, our entire reality can shift.
If we take the opportunity to heal, a broken bone can be the catalyst for mending the soul.
A is for Amarone della Valpolicella
Like Romeo and Juliet, Amarone is from fair Verona
Like the ill-fated lovers, Romeo and Juliet, Amarone is from fair Verona. That right there is enough for Shakespeare nerds to melt over this wine, but wait, there’s so much more…
Amarone is one of Italy’s most sumptuous, full-bodied dry wines
From the hills of Valpolicella, three grapes are grown and blended to make Amarone: Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara; but it’s not just the grapes that make this wine so special:
- Allowed to fully ripen, the grapes are picked in October
- Here’s the kicker: instead of directly fermenting, the grapes are air-dried through the winter, (usually on straw mats) for approx 120 days
- The drying process, appassimento is the defining feature: the grapes lose nearly 1/2 of their weight, concentrating the juice and creating a high sugar content, resulting in wines often over 15% alcohol
- After winter, the grapes are crushed and low-temperature fermented for 30–50 days
- The wine is aged in oak casks for 2–6 years according to DOCG regulations (Italy’s vino quality control)
So much extra time and effort are put into these wines, it’s no wonder they don’t come cheap. Expect to pay between $50-$80 for a good bottle.
The result from all this effort is a dry (not sweet), richly flavorful wine, which pairs exceedingly well with wild boar or lamb.
- Dark Cherry
- Dark Chocolate
A fun, unique wine, Amarone is definitely worth trying. Chewy, voluptuous and best when paired with equally decadent food — Not just for the complimentary flavors, but because the 15% alcohol can make for an impressive hangover. Handle with care.
B is for…