As I slowly work my way though four months worth of back-logged New York and New Yorker magazines, I came across an article in New York magazine where four glitterati discuss and argue for the greatest New York musical ever. The "arguers" were as follows:
Jesse Green: Moderator
Nora Ephron: Author
Frank Rich: Columnist
Jonathan Tunick: Orchestrator
George C. Wolfe: Director
I'm a personal fan of Nora, Frank and George, so it was riveting to follow this "argument." You can read the whole article here, but what I wanted to post on my blog were the "closing arguments" they each made, that naturally, stemmed from their personal preferences.
Here's what they had to say:
RICH: When I was looking back at the shows that had such a great impact on me as a child, what I found was that the common element uniting Damn Yankees, Gypsy, Music Man, and Carousel was that they all had kids with single parents. Even though it was never acknowledged in any of the shows except for Gypsy. Well, in Damn Yankees, there wasn't a kid, but a marriage technically breaks up for the length of the show.
EPHRON: So for you it was about being a child of divorce?
RICH: But I didn't figure it out for 30 years.
GREEN: The theme that informs my love of certain shows is alienation: the outsider who wants to come in and is usually crushed. Caroline, Bess, Billy Bigelow. I won't explore the implications.
WOLFE: For me it's that energy that exists in Gypsy: "It's bleak out there, but I'm gonna make it." I'm particularly drawn to defiance.
EPHRON: I like too many musicals to have one theme, but I was thinking about why I didn't love She Loves Me when I first saw it, but them fell so deeply in love with it later on. And it's partly that at a certain point in your life, you don't have the intelligence to know that the sentimental show is also great because you're so busy being hip and loving the dark shows. And then you get older, and you love the ones that are--whatever you want to call them--romantic.
TUNICK: I've always been drawn to shows with some epic element--that portray some aspect of life on a generous scale. Guys and Dolls is a picture of all New York.
WOLFE: I also respond when two worlds that don't belong together end up together. That why the musical could only have been born here: New York is all these little countries sharing a city. All the different rhythms of those different communities is what made the American musical possible.
I just have to say that I found it ironic that Helen on 86th St. contains a little of everything that is mentioned here. Being a kid with a single parent. Check. An outsider who tries to defy the odds. Check. Heart and hope. Check. An epic element--well, you don't get much more epic than the Trojan War. Check. And finally, two disparate worlds that intersect--the Upper West Side and Ancient Greece. Check. I hope that someday Jesse, Nora, Frank, Jonathan and George will be talking about Helen in conversations like this one.