Tag Archives: songs

Barbra Streisand enlists pal Melissa McCarthy, Anne Hathaway and others for Broadway album

Sometimes even Barbra Streisand needs a little help from her friends. The 74-year-old stage and screen legend decided early on that her 36th studio album would feature Broadway duets.

So she called on some of her friends and favorite actors, including Anne Hathaway, Daisy Ridley, Hugh Jackman, Chris Pine and Bradley Cooper, to bring her vision to life.

The result, Encore: Movie Partners Sing Broadway, is a quirky mix of surprising and entertaining collaborations pulled from hit musicals like My Fair Lady and A Chorus Line, as well more obscure productions such as Evening Primrose and Smile.

Despite the group effort, the album is still authentically Streisand.

“Records I have control over,” said Streisand, who was hands-on with every aspect, from song conception to directing each performance.

“That’s what I cared about as a young performer as well. I didn’t know about what salary it was,” she recalled. “I cared about creative control. That nobody can tell me what to sing or force me to sing or album cover design or anything that had to do with my creativity. It had to feel right to me.”

In a recent interview at the oceanside Malibu, California, studio where she recorded Encore, Streisand delved into her directing process with some of the biggest names in Hollywood.

 

BALDWIN CAME READY TO PLAY

Streisand admitted that some stars took a little persuading. Alec Baldwin, for example, feared he didn’t have the vocal chops.

“And I said, ‘You’re a personality and it’s perfect for the song,” she said of her early conversations with the 30 Rock actor. “Will you try with me? Because if it’s really terrible we won’t use it. Will you experiment with me? Will you play with me?”

Luckily he agreed and the outcome is the cheeky, romantic duet, “The Best Thing That Ever Has Happened,” from Stephen Sondheim’s lesser-known musical, Road Show.

“It’s hard work getting the notes right for people who are not singers, but I know they can act their way through it. They’ll get it and that’s the fun of doing this kind of project,” Streisand said.

 

FUNNY GIRLS UNITE

Streisand wanted a new twist on the classic “Anything You Can Do,” from Broadway’s Annie Get Your Gun.

So the Funny Girl star tapped fellow funny lady Melissa McCarthy to reimagine the song as comedic banter between showbiz frenemies.

“When I approached Melissa, the first thing she said to me was ‘I can’t sing you know’ and so she’s a little bit tone deaf,” Streisand explained. “But she compensates with so much personality and so much laughter and so much spontaneity.”

Streisand recalled how McCarthy struggled to hit some of the notes, but other times she nailed it.

“There are moments she sings and I go, ‘Melissa that was fantastic! You sang that beautifully!’ And she surprises herself,” she said.

 

WILLY WONKA REIMAGINED

“When I was a child I had imagination. I lived in Brooklyn. You know, I slept in the living room. But I imagined myself as somebody, as having something worthwhile to be noticed and somehow I manifested it. So I know anything is possible,” said Streisand.

This was the idea behind her heartfelt duet, “Pure Imagination,” from the 1971 film, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

Streisand teamed with actor-filmmaker Seth MacFarlane for the dreamy ballad and penned a spoken-word introduction about imagination she hoped will resonate with modern audiences.

“The divisiveness, the violence, these are very sad times,” she said. “I just believe in the power of whatever it is _ faith, prayer, visualization … who knows what that can manifest?”

 

FOXX FOR THE FINISH

Streisand had full confidence that Jaimie Foxx would rise to the challenge of performing one of Broadway’s most-beloved songs: “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” from The Sound of Music.

“I did because I saw him get an Academy Award for playing Ray Charles. So I know he can sing,” she said. “His soulfulness, his great voice …. he was able to sing it in one session, you know. I mean he’s that good. So I was thrilled. I was thrilled to sing with him.”

Streisand closes the album with the soulful, moving duet, which she said is about “having dreams and taking chances.”

“Step-by-step we will get there,” said Streisand of her approach to any obstacle. “We will climb that mountain. You have to have faith in today’s world. Don’t you?”

 

On the Web

http://encore.barbrastreisand.com/

Top songs, albums on iTunes

The top 10 songs and albums on the iTunes Store, according to iTunes’ Official Music Charts.

Top Songs

  1. 7 Years, Lukas Graham
  2. Dangerous Woman, Ariana Grande
  3. NO, Meghan Trainor
  4. Work (feat. Drake), Rihanna
  5. My House, Flo Rida
  6. Stressed Out, twenty one pilots
  7. PILLOWTALK, ZAYN
  8. I Took a Pill in Ibiza, Mike Posner
  9. Love Yourself, Justin Bieber
  10. YOUTH, Troye Sivan
7 Years, Lukas Graham tops on itunes
At the top of the chart on iTunes. — PHOTO: Courtesy

Top Albums on iTunes

  1. Have It All (Live), Bethel Music
  2. This Is What the Truth Feels Like, Gwen Stefani
  3. 3001: A Laced Odyssey, Flatbush Zombies
  4. untitled unmastered., Kendrick Lamar
  5. Chapter 1 – EP, Kane Brown
  6. Something Beautiful, Jordan Smith
  7. Traveller, Chris Stapleton
  8. 25, Adele
  9. Incarnate , Killswitch Engage
  10. Hamilton (Original Broadway Cast Recording), Various Artists

— from Apple Inc.

‘Wicked’ lends its themes to anti-bullying campaign

Wicked’s reign as one of the most popular and lucrative stage shows in history continues 12 years on, with crowds eagerly packing theaters on Broadway and on tour.

Two of those theaters will be in Madison and Milwaukee, where Alyssa Fox will take the stage to portray Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West.

Over the course of Wicked, and the novel of the same name, Elphaba begins as a gifted, strong-willed and intelligent young woman, but is increasingly painted as an evil witch by those around her. Their fear and misunderstanding is initially prompted by one unmistakable difference — her green skin.

“Elphaba was born as someone who is immediately different from everyone around her and got a lot of criticism for just being who she is on the outside because she’s green,” says Fox, who has been playing Elphaba since January and has been with the tour since 2011.

“I think I relate to her a lot,” she adds. “I was a little bit of a different kid. I was very sensitive and quiet and shy. I had different interests than other people and I got made fun of too for that and that’s something I really can put myself into as the character onstage.”

It isn’t easy for Elphaba to be green — and that’s something that victims of bullying culture can relate to intimately. So as musical has become more of a cornerstone in society, the show has partnered with an organization called BullyBust to help school-aged children learn about bullying through the story. The program trains students to identify bullying in their school communities and work to diffuse it. 

Fairy tales and social morality have been linked for centuries, and Wicked is truly just the latest example of this tradition.

In Wicked, Elphaba’s ultimate best friend was first her enemy, a so-called “popular girl” named Glinda. As both Elphaba and Glinda mature, their relationship develops into a close friendship as they learn more about each other. 

“That absolutely can happen in real life if people open themselves up to each other and accept each other despite their differences,” Fox says. “You can be two completely different people who disagree on things but still be really wonderful friends.”

As a prominent social climber at their school, Glinda, with a turn of phrase or simple action, can sway the position of other students. Taking the first step and speaking out can likewise be the first step for students to be positive forces for equality in real life. 

“As Glinda changes the temperature around her, because people look up to her, if she does something kind for Elphaba and brings her into the community then everyone else rallies around that,” says Fox. “It’s a really great example for social leaders in schools these days. One person can take a stance and be accepting and other people will catch onto that kindness.”

The show not only works to bring the issue of bullying in schools to light, but also touches upon cultural and racial stereotyping as well as abuse and mistreatment. There are characters of many creeds and colors who are persecuted throughout the show by the overwhelming group-think of the residents of Oz.

“The show was written in that time after 9/11 when a lot of judgments were being made,” says Fox. “Wicked definitely touches on that subject a lot in the show, (where there is) somebody who is seen as ‘the other’ and as ‘the scapegoat’ and people end up making those people the enemy.”

When asked what one lesson could be taken away from this particular theme in the show, Fox responded that, “The important thing is to not ever consider yourself to be over someone else, likewise, no one is under you — we are all equal, we’re all human and we’re all fighting our own battles. That speaks volumes, because if one person steps up then it opens the doors for everyone else too.”

ON STAGE

The national tour of Wicked will appear at Madison’s Overture Center, 201 State St., through Nov. 1, and Milwaukee’s Marcus Center, 929 N. Water St., Nov. 4 – 15. Tickets in Madison are $33 to $135, while tickets in Milwaukee are $42 to $152. Visit overturecenter.org or marcuscenter.org to order tickets.

Stephen Sondheim reimagined for piano by 37 composers

Stephen Sondheim sounded enchanted.

Note by note, pianist Anthony de Mare and three dozen composers had put their own imprints on songs Sondheim wrote over the past half-century, a tribute to the man who redefined Broadway.

“You don’t even have to complete the question,” Sondheim said. “What could be more flattering than to be taken seriously by your peers? And also, some of these are more than peers.”

“Liaisons: Re-Imagining Sondheim From the Piano” was released last month as a three-disc set by ECM. It features 37 original compositions by an All-Star team of composers that includes William Bolcom, Ricky Ian Gordon, Jake Heggie, Wynton Marsalis, Nico Muhly, Steve Reich, Duncan Sheik and Mark-Anthony Turnage.

Listening to more than three hours of luminous interpolations, there’s much familiar — and much peculiar.

“They all said it was tricky in a lot of ways because the songs are already perfect,” de Mare said one afternoon at his Manhattan home.

It’s difficult to discern who feels more honored — the 85-year-old Sondheim or those commissioned to contribute. On a rainy Friday afternoon after arriving in Connecticut for a weekend in the country, Sondheim said he was.

“I just thought, gee, is my stuff interesting enough to occupy these composers’ minds?” Sondheim said.

He may have felt that in reverse. The contributors wondered whether they were up to the task of rethinking the originals.

Heggie, now 54, dedicated his 2010 opera, “Moby-Dick,” to Sondheim. He recalled seeing “Sweeney Todd” for the first time in Los Angeles in the 1980s.

“The axis of my world shifted. I just remember time stopped and I had to re-evaluate everything,” he said. “It literally blew the top of my head off, and that’s when I sort of went very deep into the Sondheim world and became addicted to his shows.”

Winner of eight Tonys, eight Grammys, an Academy Award and a Pulitzer Prize, Sondheim is known for more than his famous shows. He transforms, teaches and tutors. And these composers have listened.

De Mare came up with the idea of the piano project in 2007, brought on Rachel Colbert to produce and through a lawyer sent a letter to Sondheim. Within two weeks, Sondheim wrote back and suggested a chat.

“One of his tenets is less is more, so his notes were always so much said in the most concise way,” de Mare said.

Milton Babbitt, one of Sondheim’s teachers, agreed to participate and chose “I’m Still Here,” Carlotta’s great elegy from “Follies.” But Babbitt died in 2011 at age 94 just after starting his piece and was replaced by his student, Frederic Rzewski.

Some thought about it, had sleepless nights and backed off. De Mare said Adam Guettel advised he was too nervous. Elvis Costello, Sting and Tori Amos didn’t have the time.

Muhly relished the endeavor, labeling Sondheim “an insane genius.”

“My entire high school life was driving around Providence with my friend listening to everything on repeat,” he said.

For him, “Color and Light” from “Sunday in the Park With George” felt comfy and cozy.

“It’s repetitive, it’s obsessive, it’s pointillistic, it’s got everything a neurotic boy could want!” he said.

In some of the songs, such as Sheik’s soaring “Johanna in Space,” the melodic line is clear, the structure only slightly rearranged. Some were more daring, deconstructing Sondheim’s original.

“Sometimes I have trouble following the composer’s mind as to what he took and what he was developing, and then when I listen to it two or three times, it becomes clear,” Sondheim said. “Some of them are very far removed from the original, from the source material and some of them are not, and so I like to follow the track of the composer’s mind and see what it was that grabbed him and what it suggested to him.”

De Mare, 58, wrote the coda himself. Reich’s “Finishing the Hat — 2 Pianos” is the only one for multiple keyboards — de Mare recorded a track he uses when performing it in solo concerts.

David Rakowski’s “The Ladies Who Lunch” in a chromatic critique of Joanne’s bender in “Company.” Fred Hersch’s “No One is Alone” moves, Paul Moravec’s “I Think About You” obsesses, and Heggie’s “I’m Excited. No You’re Not” romps.

This tribute is a sign of Sondheim’s staying power. But Sondheim himself isn’t so sure.

“I never think about that because there’s no way of knowing,” he said. “Think of it, there’s endless instances of all kinds of art that everybody thought in their day were quote immortal and now nobody ever hears. Who’s heard (Antonio) Salieri? Only people who study music — I mean, he does not get performed much. Who hears (Louis) Spohr? The most popular composer of his day. So, I find it foolish to think about that.”

Q&A: Barbra Streisand, the feminist, sings on

Barbra Streisand’s new album of duets only includes male singers, but it wasn’t a conscious effort to exclude females.

“Everyone we asked was … busy,” Streisand said. The performer almost scored one major diva: Beyonce.

“She had her people try to do a track of one of the songs from my movie, ‘A Star is Born,’ and it just, we didn’t have the time to finish it, to get it right,” she said. “We had to release the album. Maybe someday we’ll do a duet because she’s so great.”

“Partners” features Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, John Mayer, John Legend and Babyface, who produced the album.

In a recent interview with The Associated Press, Streisand talked about music, directing, women’s right and politics.

AP: Would you do an album full of female duets next?

Streisand: (Pauses) Possibly. I loved singing with Celine (Dion) and Donna Summer.

AP: What was the energy like in the studio for you and your guests?

Streisand: We were all nervous. Everybody was saying to me, “I’m nervous singing with you!” And I said, “Whoops, I’m nervous singing with you.” …I love that kind of nervousness. You know something’s being done for posterity. I guess that’s why I like making movies, too, because it lasts.

AP: How have you maintained your voice over the years?

Streisand: I don’t drink. I don’t like the taste of liquor. I like beer sometimes. I can do half a shot of vodka with tonic, but it’s always like medicine to me, alcohol. I don’t drink wine even. Maybe that has something to do with it. I smoked when I was 10 years old, you know on the streets, on the rooftops in Brooklyn because my stepfather smoked … gave it up when I was 12.

AP: Was it weird singing along with Elvis Presley’s vocals on “Love Me Tender”?

Streisand: No, it just felt right. It felt natural. I met him. I talked to him. I wanted him for a movie.

AP: What movie?

Streisand: It was “A Star is Born” many, many years ago. His career was slightly in decline, he was overweight and I thought he was perfect to play that part. …It was fun to talk to him. He was talking about the process of how people don’t understand that you need time and quiet before you perform. And he was talking about a girl in his life who doesn’t understand that, and I said, “Oh you really have to explain that and tell her it’s not personal; it’s just that you need to be quiet before you go onstage.” But it was lovely to share these stories with each other.

AP: Are you planning to do more movies?

Streisand: I like directing. I’m planning to direct a move and also be in a couple of things maybe that I’ve meant to do over the years.

AP: Are you happy to see more female directors on the scene?

Streisand: Well, the problem is there aren’t more. I swear to God I read a survey a few months ago, like less than 6 percent of women are directing films today, and that was (the same as) in the time I did “Yentl.”

AP: Why do you think that is?

Streisand: I think women are still treated as second-class citizens. We still don’t get equal pay. Thank God I am in the music industry, so it’s a bit different, but I’m fortunate in that way. The average woman doesn’t get the same pay; she gets 77 cents on the dollar that a man gets. I’m so involved in women’s heart disease and trying to raise awareness and funds; Even in medical research, women are not treated equally. The research on women’s hearts is done in the last 50 years on men. …So since women are 51 percent of the population I think we should really have that represented in Congress as well.

AP: Speaking of politics, have you spoken to Hillary Clinton whether she’ll run for president?

Streisand: I would love her to run. I think we have advanced with Obama, and I think people are giving him a hard time, which is not fair because this Affordable Care Act is working and it’s going to help a lot of people. But it’s like Greek tragedy, you know, they always try to bring down the gods, bring down the kings, bring down the leaders.

AP: Do you feel like he’s doing a good job?

Streisand: I do. And it’s right to take your time going to war and so forth. He has to be thoughtful.

On the Web

http://www.barbrastreisand.com/us/partners

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Tony Bennett: Truth and beauty are his game

In 1979, with no recording contract, few concerts, a failed second marriage and the IRS on his heels, Tony Bennett nearly died from a cocaine overdose.  The former top crooner, whose iconic 1962 hit “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” made him a household name, had lost touch with contemporary audiences and lost his way in the changing music scene.

Bennett reached out to sons Danny and Dae, who helped turn his faltering career around and found a way for him to appeal to younger audiences without changing his charismatic musical style. Many new fans had never heard his music before, but they appreciated his enormous talent. Bennett’s star began once again to ascend, and it now shines as brightly once more.

At 87, Bennett is a marvel, as energetic and as strong of voice as ever. He’ll demonstrate his talents June 6 at Milwaukee’s Riverside Theatre. 

Bennett’s also at a point where he can reflect on his life and acknowledge the influences that shaped him and his career.

You’ve managed to transcend style and fashion to create an enduring career. What are the key elements that define Tony Bennett the artist and performer?  I grew up during the Depression …. and every Sunday (my extended family) would come to our house and we would have a big meal. Then all my relatives would sit around in a circle and my brother, sister and I would entertain them. The love and encouragement that I got from my family at that time in my life was so supportive that I knew back then that I wanted to be a performer, and that this was what I am. For the time I am on stage, if the audience can just … forget about their daily problems and concerns and walk away in a good mood, then that makes me feel terrific. I consider it an honorable profession. 

Is there a single song that best encapsulates your career and contributions to the music industry? Wow, that is truly impossible for me to pinpoint. But I can tell you that, for me, I like to communicate truth and beauty in what I do. That’s my game.

What do you look for in choosing material?  Well, when I got home after being a foot soldier in WWII, I was fortunate enough to study at the American Theatre Wing under the GI Bill. The most important lessons that my teachers taught me …  was to do only quality material, never play down to an audience.  For me, there was a golden era of master craftsmen among songwriters in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s that make up what’s called the Great American Songbook. I gravitate to the music of Cole Porter, the Gershwins, Duke Ellington, Harry Warren and Irving Berlin.

What is essential for me in choosing a song is being able to connect with what the songwriter is trying to convey. If it generates an emotion or feeling that leads me to say, “Yes, I understand that. I have felt that way,” then I know that I can connect with the audience when I sing it.  

You’ve created a second career as an artist. Tell me about that. I have always had a passion to sing and paint and have been drawing and sketching my whole life. It was actually Duke Ellington who inspired me to take painting more seriously. He told me it was always better to be creative in two things rather than just one. That way if you burned out doing one art form, you could switch to the other form for awhile, but either you way you always stay in a creative zone.  

Artistically, I like to focus on nature since it never disappoints, so I tend to find beautiful landscapes to sketch or paint. I am fortunate that as a performer I travel the world and am able to paint in settings I might never have had the chance to visit otherwise.  On the road I travel with a big sketchpad and have a small pad that I always keep in the breast pocket of my suit jacket. I also have a travel watercolor set that I take with me. 

You’ve been a great supporter of liberal and progressive causes. Do you support marriage equality and gay civil rights? I am a humanist, so I support humanity.  Ella Fitzgerald, who was a dear friend, used to say something to me that was so simple, but yet I found it very profound. She would say, “Tony, we are all here.”  And that really is the truth of the matter — that regardless of race, gender, culture or religion, we are all human beings first and we need to respect and support one another.

You’ve performed with a number of gay or gay-friendly artists, including k.d. lang and Lady Gaga. What were those experiences like? I just love working with k.d. lang. The first time I heard her sing, I knew that she had “it,” just like Judy Garland. She has an extraordinary talent, but she makes it seem so effortless and natural. We made an album together, then she sang on both of my duets records, and we toured together. I just adore working with her and being with her. She is a lovely person.  

The first time I saw Lady Gaga was when we both performed at a New York City event for the Robin Hood Foundation, which supports the homeless.  I was completely amazed at what a very good singer and piano player she was. We are working on a collaborative jazz album together that I hope will come out later this year.  She has an excellent understanding of jazz and the popular standards, and I think her fans will love getting a chance to hear her sing this genre of music. (The album, currently titled Cheek to Cheek, has no set release date.)

You bring an energy and vibrancy to your performances that would be the envy of a performer half your age. Where do you get your strength and inspiration? Thank you. I can only say that I truly feel like I have never worked a day in my life, because I have been able to make a living doing the two things that I love the most — singing and painting. I think if you have a passion for something — art, music, literature, cooking or whatever it may be — and it makes you feel fulfilled, then it keeps you going.  And I always try to learn something new every day.