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Slice of Turkey: Forever Plaid, 1990

One evergreen feature of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade is to feature the cast of a Broadway musical performing a number from their show. The effect is often weird, since the actors, singers, and dancers are asked to complete a routine in an area a fraction the size of an actual Broadway stage. It’s like asking Michael Phelps to breaststroke across a bathtub. Not to long ago, I wrote about Starlight Express, which is an extreme but representative example of this phenomenon. Starlight Express was bonkers even at its full scale. Reduced to tiny TV dimensions, it was practically suicidal.

I’ve chosen this clip that features the original cast of Forever Plaid for a few reasons. For one thing, it is a rare case where it seems that no reduction in scale was necessary, nor did it endanger anyone’s life. It’s also pretty amusing. I was genuinely impressed by the insane showmanship on display here.

But mostly I chose this clip because it triggered an ancient memory. My freshman year at NYU, one of my roommates was a pleasant enough person with whom I had no problems with at all, except that he loved to belt out songs with wild, unbridled enthusiasm, particularly early in the morning while showering. It bugged me, but I dealt with, because when it comes to putting up with petty annoyances (as opposed to actually confronting their sources), I have Herculean strength. I will exhaust any and all contingencies before asking someone to knock off whatever they’re doing.

My roommate was painfully, blissfully oblivious to how loud he was, until one morning after I’d invited several girls to crash in our room. (Nought but crashing went on; it was, for all intents and purposes, a slumber party. I only mention this to emphasize how awkwardly chaste I still was at age 18.) I was used to my roommate’s performances and just buried my head under a pillow. The girls, however, thought it was the funniest thing they’d ever heard. They all tried to shush each other but couldn’t help breaking out into chortles at his thoroughly earnest crooning.

He eventually emerged from the bathroom, wearing nothing but a towel, to find several girls (who’d escaped his notice before, apparently) sitting up in their sleeping bags, giggling. One told him she liked his voice. She said it sincerely, but he looked mortified. “You could hear me?” he asked, incredulous. I have no idea how he could not have known we could hear him. The whole dorm could.

From thereon out, his singing was far more subdued and infrequent, which was good for sleeping in but bad for my conscience. Annoying though it may have been, I felt awful for making him feel so self conscious about his shower singing. He also became a bit leery of me, suddenly thinking I was this super macho hetero dude because I was bringing over multiple girls to our room. Even I found this to be ridiculously funny, because the most exciting thing that happened that night was watching the “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Regardless of reality, he now saw me very differently, and we were never quite “cool” again.

Before this incident, however, Forever Plaid was in heavy rotation in my roommate’s repertoire. I’ve never seen the show or learned much about it; according to Wikipedia, it seems to be a proto-jukebox musical with an oddly dark premise. On the rare occasions where I hear/see it mentioned, I think of my freshman year roommate and how I accidentally crushed his fragile spirit with my irrepressible manliness.

Skating on Thin Ice

A while ago, I wrote about the earworm effect of radio ads for Broadways shows, which imprint themselves on my brain when I’m most vulnerable (i.e., just waking up). I don’t know how things are in your neck of the woods, but local New York TV/radio is filled with commercials for Broadway shows, and has been my entire life. And Broadway-related commercials, such as this immortal ad for a hotel “in the center of it all” that was on TV for pretty much my entire childhood, and beyond.

This commercial is deeply imprinted on my psyche, perhaps even my soul. It sells a very old school, elegant idea that Broadway still has of itself–and, ironically, was shot when the Theater District was at the absolute nadir of its mid-1980s scuzziness. Whatever limited sense of irony and postmodernism Broadway may have now (enough to endure shows like Spamalot and The Book of Mormon, anyway), it had none of back then. Broadway was still very much wrapped up in glamour! and glitz! and you’re going out there a nobody but you’re coming back a star!

I am not at all a Broadway Person, so how do I know this? Because ads for Broadway shows ran on local TV constantly when I was a kid, and I can remember pretty much all of them. Like this ad for Cats which ran for roughly 900 years (much like the show itself). I recently had an argument with my wife when she insisted that the cats meowed along to the tune you hear in that commercial. (No, they didn’t, although the idea of them doing so is hilarious.) Or this nearly wordless ad for a revival of 42nd Street. Or this Dreamgirls ad that I distinctly remember, even though I’m sure I was too young to entirely understand what I was seeing.

Recently, another old Broadway ad flitted to the front of my brain. I remember being captivated by this commercial’s utterly earnest and weird conception of Great White Way glitz. Sadly, there is no representative example of this ad on YouTube, which is why at first I thought I might have imagined it. But I polled friends and family alike, and it was indeed a thing. My wife told me her sister had a poster of this show on her wall. A friend of mine told me she had to sing songs from it for school chorus. It was not only a thing, but evidently a quite popular thing.

Continue reading Skating on Thin Ice

This Is Your 6:30 AM Wake Up Shriek

I don’t get a lot of sleep. Between parenting, various external and internal obligations, and my own Night Owl inclinations, it’s rare that I get a solid eight hours. Or seven. And even six is kinda pushing it.

As a result, I stay in bed as long as humanly possible each morning. More often than not, I don’t roll out of bed earlier than one second before I have to. But there is one thing that can get me leaping out of bed: radio ads for Broadway shows.

I’m not a Broadway Person. Not saying that to make myself seem superior to Broadway People; if that’s your thing, good for you. I’m simply saying it’s not for me. And the fact that it’s not for me is reinforced each time I hear a commercial for a musical at the crack of dawn.

Our alarm is set to WCBS News Radio. Apart from criminal amounts of John Sterling soundbites during baseball season, WCBS also airs tons of spots for Broadway musicals. Considering the average shelf life of a Broadway musical (i.e., not very long), these ads are run with an insane amount of saturation. If a show is about to debut, you are virtually guaranteed to hear an ad for it once or twice each commercial break.

Since these spots air incessantly first thing in the morning when I’m half awake and the human brain is at its most vulnerable, they’re imprinted on my brain. Even if a certain show didn’t run for very long, an ad for it probably ran in such heavy rotation I can recite it word for word (or warble for warble). I still distinctly remember an ad for a revival of Thoroughly Modern Millie, which ended with the titular character belting out MIL-LIEEEEEE! And there’s a commercial for Wicked that’s aired for years, in which the Wicked Witch (I think) sings about being so happy she could melt, in that ear-punishing Broadway fashion that makes me want to melt. My own brains. With a glock.

These are all simply annoying, the kinds of sounds I don’t want to hear first thing in the morning. But I’ve recently heard a Broadway ad that slips out of the surly bounds of annoying and attains the status of Maddening. As in, it could actually drive you crazy. I’m pretty sure it was engineered in a CIA lab for the purposes of psychic warfare.

It comes from the musical adaptation of Pedro Almodovar’s Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. I have not seen this musical and almost certainly will not see it. I haven’t even seen the movie, though I know it’s considered a classic. So I can not comment on the quality of the production or its source material. What I can say is that, if this is the first thing you hear when you wake up, after 5+ hours of fitful sleep, there is a 50 percent chance you will go insane.

Here’s the audio, although I only suggest playing it if you’re running low on nightmare fuel or you enjoy acid flashbacks. Enjoy! (Click here if that player down there don’t work for ya.)

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