ps classics - celebrating the heritage of broadway and american popular song
Catalog | Songbook | Howard Sings Ashman | Transcript

@@ CD Image

  $17.95 Add to Cart

This album is a two-CD set.

Album Release Date:
 November 4, 2008

what the critics are saying
“The collection of songs is truly stunning and shows the breadth and depth of Ashman’s prolific talent.... Simply beautiful.”

Howard Sings Ashman
Songwriter Series

In late 1985, Hamlisch and Ashman met with Bob Fosse after a workshop performance of the show to try and interest him in the project. Ashman’s tape of that meeting survives, and it offers a rare look at three musical theatre luminaries discussing the strengths and weaknesses of a major work in progress.


Fosse: “It’s very cynical, isn’t it? It’s a little hard for me to follow the second act, do you know what I mean....You’ve done a really exceptional job. It’s bright, it’s articulate, it’s got tremendous energy, the characters seem more interesting than the other version. It’s a bitch to stage, I can tell you that. We start seeing quick cuts from film to people, one word here, two words there... But if it works, of course, it’s glorious. I guess it’s something everybody’s fooled with. I think it’s exceptional.”

“I think there’s one too many montage numbers there in the middle where there’s eight scenes going on... I liked them all, but it seems like it didn’t sit anywhere for any length of time. And I like the technique... I’m the one who’s always saying ‘Let’s do that...’ It’s hard when you hear so much material and the stuff is very fast”

Hamlisch:“In the next four weeks... by October 15... we’ll have the second act on paper. We tend to sit with it for a while and then all of a sudden he goes off and writes really quickly.”

Fosse: “Are you sure you have the act curtain in the right place? It seems like traditionally it’d be the nude photograph and the chaos.”

Ashman: “I don’t have enough to come after it. I have no second act.”

Hamlisch: “We also thought about the possibility of doing this all in one act.”

Ashman: “I don’t think the end of the first act worked as well today... There’s a cliffhanger to be had there... If I do my job right the cliffhanger ought to be, “You know the little boys are taking pictures.” One of the girls discovers them. You think for a minute she’s going to turn him in, and then she says, “Unless...”

Hamlisch: “The idea of the thing was that everything before the 2nd act was before the pageant. Act 2 is “The Pageant” and we’re on, we’re doing it... If we go to the point of doing the picture, then this has to be a one act show – which I’m not against, but then it has to be a one act show because we don’t have enough...”

Ashman: “After that, it’s all aftermath.”

Hamlisch: “It’s as if the pageant that goes on really has two songs in it – we’re cheating, we’re doing an opening number when you see them all in these gorgeous gowns, we’re going to do a number ala “Climb Every Mountain”... this inspirational number which, while they’re doing it, the chaos between Brenda and Big Bob occurs; the big argument, which I think is a wonderful juxtaposition hearing this number about love, charity, home, whatever it’s about, and at the same time they’re having this big argument.”

Ashman: “I want to do the inspirational number in direct juxtaposition to his dream falling apart.”

Hamlisch: “Once the finalist wins, you got eight pages and it’s over, this show’s over. So you have a reprise of “Disneyland” and this one little waltz that I wrote, something for him...where he has this moment. That’s about all it’s going to take. Originally we talked about the possibility of doing it as one act, which has certain great advantages, but again has more problems...”

“One of the things that I feel conceptually is that, when those girls reveal in the second act, what should be up onstage is a set that in Santa Rosa they could have constructed; it may only be 2000 balloons and crepe paper, but it still should be something those people could have constructed that night.”

[He goes on about Bob’s disillusionment and the various story strands and why they can’t move the act curtain.]

Ashman: “There are three little plots. The incident content is really fairly subtle and fairly small scale. The biggest thing that happens is the displaying of the nude photo. That’s the only real trick I’ve got to pull out of my bag as far as a plot twist. And it’s a question of balancing those three little plots in lieu of the one big one with Big Bob as the real central fanatic drive that takes you from beginning to end and the one who changes.”

Fosse (on Brenda): “You’ve made her much darker.”

Ashman: “I don’t think I have, really. I made it easier to glom onto, but I think she’s pretty fucking dark in the movie. Her husband has to shoot her, and you laugh when he shoots her.”

Hamlisch: “Depending on how it’s read... she either turns out to be meaner or an extremely hard working and dedicated lady – dedicated to the wrong thing, but truly dedicated.”

Ashman: “But the truth of what she is is dark. The truth of what she is is frigid...”

Fosse: “ living vicariously...”

Ashman: “ living vicariously, is not connected to anything that’s real. That’s a nightmare of a marriage.”

Fosse: “I tell you, when I saw the showcase, I thought you should throw out all the adults. The only thing I was interested in were the kids. And somehow there I never felt like there was enough... You know I worked on a show... about Miss America about ten years ago and we interviewed a lot of people, that’s how we started. We never found a way of doing it.”

“But suspense as to who IS going to win, do you know what I mean? Again, I’m speaking so off the top of my head, the material came so energetically and so quickly and there’s so many cross conversations, that I knew I liked the feeling of it but I don’t know exactly where each – You think you have that suspense in there now?”

Ashman: “I think so, I do. I think if I do it right, I ought to be tricking you into... thinking that either Robin or Doria are going to win.”

Fosse: “You think Robin because traditionally in musicals it’ll always be that girl who stuttered.”

Ashman: “Although Doria wants it so badly and you kind of like her.”

Fosse: “I like her a lot. Actually, in this version, she’s my favorite character. I think there’s a way of getting her to a point where you could really feel sympathy for her. I mean she could really break your heart because she wants something so bad. It’s like one of those kids in your [Hamlisch’s] Chorus Line who wants it so bad...”

Ashman: “And what she wants is so sad really”

Fosse: “Yeah, it’s all off. You may need a little more curve in this so it’s not dead-on. That’s what I felt about several of the characters... They need, not much, but they’re just a little one dimensional, they’re driving—Bob is always true blue, Brenda’s always the pageant...once in a while a line here or there just to show that these are more rounded people, I think might be a help, and I don’t mean you have to change their character at all, but once in a while a little thing to take away that feeling that you’re dealing in types and not people. They’re mostly types now, and I think you need just one little thing for each one of them...”

Ashman: “Most of Robin and Doria’s dialogue is from the movie. I’ve made more changes in Doria than anybody else, and the song does a lot to her that the movie doesn’t... I believe her a lot more than I believe Robin. The casting pulls it off in the movie...there was texture there. She was a nice girl but not a drooling idiot. I think you’re right about curves. My impulse is usually to just get them clear from beginning to end.”

Fosse: “And that you’ve done, which is the major thing.”

Ashman: “I couldn’t tell them apart from the workshop script, so I made sure I could tell them apart. My bad girl is all bad – all her lines are about ‘I hate Maria.’ All of Maria’s lines are about guacamole.”

Fosse: “Otherwise it almost gets predictable how they’ll behave, and if you could find those moments where you lose the predictability, even if they revert... I remember liking the movie, and I know it’s a cult movie – I don’t remember it that well... It was typical of his [Michael Ritchie’s] movies: it was fast, a lot of different scenes, and I liked all of that. It was saying something about the silliness of all of this, the posing and superficiality, the need for all of it, the small town bullshit and all that goes with it.”

“I think if you just take the essence of that... I think you’ve done a terrific job – both of you. And the lyrics – there’s so many of them. Jesus Christ, Sylvia Fine’s gonna kill you for that fast talking number. She used to write all those for him [Fine was Danny Kaye’s wife] and she feels she’s the expert in fast talking.”

Hamlisch: “One of the reasons we wrote the song the way we wrote it for Brenda...was that we need in Brenda a terrific actress, someone who can be funny as hell... more than I want a singer. It was one of the reasons we wrote it practically melody-less...that’s her only song.”

Fosse: “Disneyland should stop the show. It’s a terrific song.”

Hamlisch: “I think it’s also phenomenal at the end of the show to have them with all their bags... We can get you a script of the first act, and the second act is four weeks away, if you would want to read it.

Fosse: “Yeah, sure. You know... I’m going to California to see some people, I don’t know if I want to do it or not, and then I have a project of my own, but this is the most interesting show that I’ve heard. It’s really got energy and I think you’re on to something good... It has steam first of all, real energy and drive that it didn’t have the first time.”

Hamlisch: “One of the things Howard did very early, which for me opened it up instantly, was when he married her [Brenda] to Big Bob and got rid of Andy, because every time he came out you went ‘Uh oh, here we go...’”

Ashman: “It can’t be about kvetching.”

Hamlisch: “What we want to do is finish writing this, which is about four weeks away, and hopefully ‘you’ll hate California, it’s cold and it’s damp,’ and at that point we can show you the second act and see where we are.”

Fosse: “It’s too bad you can’t swipe a scene my friend Paddy Chayevsky wrote. It was a fantastic scene where William Holden takes Faye Dunaway to East Hampton [in Network]... He’s married, and Bob wants to check her into the Quality Inn and she’s a television person. So the whole time he’s fucking her, she’s talking about the ratings of this show and that show. It’s one of the great fucking scenes of all time.”

Hamlisch: “When do you leave?”

Fosse: “Probably the end of this week.”

Hamlisch: “He’s [Ashman] got this wonderful machine at home that gives scripts in about a minute and a half, he’s got this computer business.”

Ashman: “Knowing that you were going to hear it, I was reticent to even set things too firmly in my own head...”

Fosse: “I think that’s fine. If you want somebody just to stage it, there’s lots of guys, but if you want some help working on it...

Ashman: “That’s what I want. I would give my right arm to have you do it.”

Fosse: “As you know, you’re going to have to find some wild set... that’s rather malleable with a few pieces here and there.”

Hamlisch: “I also think it would be brilliantly lit, the kind of show that has a set that you see, then you don’t see, then you see... it literally becomes the set in front of you... I think it would be a lighting dream.”

Ashman: “In some way it’s a show about montage numbers. But the tricky thing is what’s different about each of them...They’re built similarly and I’ve run a little bit dry.”

Fosse: “When you first hear a score you’re taking in so many different things.”

[They discuss which numbers could be changed. Hamlisch addresses why he called Fosse.]

Hamlisch: “The reason I called you about this show was simply this. When Howard and I started working a few months ago, he was the third book writer on the show. We started out with a guy named Meehan [Tom]... and then... Carolyn [Leigh] died and then Howard was brought in... After we started working, only a few weeks, I realized there was something coming out of this show which was the reason I wanted to do it in the first place... that this show was more than a beauty pageant – there was something at the spine of the whole American Dream that was starting to be clawed at.

“When [Howard] came in with the first lyric of the opening number, I went, ‘wait a minute, we got something much more important.’ Having worked with two writers, I’d thought maybe it’s just not there, because the movie runs out of gas after about 45 minutes, maybe this is inherent with the project – it’s kind of a 45 minute vignette and then it just runs out of gas. When it didn’t run out of gas at page 35, which is where it usually ran out of gas with the other ones, I went ‘hold it,’ this is not some little funzie show...I know the show’s funny, but I also know it’s got this screeching bite to it...”

"That’s why I called you because we’re working on something that’s too important to just get anybody to stage it and say we’ll run three years and just go home.”

Ashman: “It ought to be a show about a sensibility, a show about a point of view. It’s one big image, this pageant, and it’s all about the slant on the pageant, all about how it’s seen.”

Hamlisch: “All of my life, from when I first started out in music, one of the things I wanted to do was perform with the Boston Pops. Two years ago, I finally got to play the Boston Pops. Wait till you see the dressing room of John Williams or whomever. See that dressing room and then see what the people see when they’re watching the Boston Pops. You feel glamorous and gorgeous -- go to the dressing room. That to me is what the show is about...There’s something so thrilling... there’s this pageant, these gorgeous girls, this incorruptible thing, and meanwhile we’re seeing it all.”

Ashman: “There’s something about Jerry Falwell lurking under it too, something about this Republican period that we’re in and this celebration of Republicanism. God, I would love to do that before he’s out of office.”

Fosse: “A benediction before the pageant starts.”

Ashman: “I think you ought to feel in some way that this Wilson-Shears man is like that, is somehow making money on this bullshit that we pay lip service to, that people can be conned into because it makes them feel better, and they have a genuine right to feel better, but he doesn’t have a genuine right to pick their pocket by encouraging facile answers to things -- a mindset that gets them into trouble.”

Fosse: “I think you’ve done a pretty good job of presenting all the various points of view that must go into this, the believers and the non-believers, the bullshiters and the opportunists. I sense that there’s kind of a multiple thing going on with a lot of different feelings, because you can’t present it all one way. I tried to do that with a show called Chicago. They hated me for it – the cast hated me, Kander and Ebb hated me. I said ‘everybody in this show is going to be shitty, there’s not going to be one decent person in it.’ The one decent guy is the husband and everybody shits on him.”

“I gotta use the bathroom.”

Ashman: “These are the most amazing little grapes.”

[Tape ends]

track listing
Disc One:
  1. Da Doo
  2. Bad
  3. The Rosewater Foundation
  4. Mushari's Waltz
  5. Cheese Nips
  6. Growing Boy
  7. Straw Boater Rag
  8. Sheridan Square
  9. Part of That World
  10. Under the Sea
  11. Poor Unfortunate Souls
  12. Les Poissons
  13. Arabian Nights
  14. Babkak, Omar, Aladdin, Kasim
  15. Call Me a Princess
  16. Gaston
  17. Be Our Guest
  18. Beauty and the Beast

Disc Two:

  1. Typical High School Senior
  2. Santa Rosa Intro – Postcard
  3. Disneyland
  4. Shine
  5. Postcard
  6. Nerves
  7. Young and American
  8. Act I Finale
  9. Act II Opening / Do It for Me
  10. Ted Farley Sequence
  11. Smile
  12. We Wish We Were You
  13. In Our Hands
  14. Pretty as a Picture / Finale
  15. Bonus Track: Big Bob's Song

you might also like

Jonathan Sings Larson
Songwriter Series

Charles Sings Strouse
Songwriter Series

Hugh Sings Martin
Songwriter Series

Sondheim Sings
Volume I

Sondheim Sings
Volume II

Kerry Butler
Faith, Trust & Pixie Dust
follow us on twitter join us on facebook

© 2010 PS Classics. All Rights Reserved. | New Releases | Catalog | Notes | About Us | Contact          Site Design by Mark Bakalor

new releases catalog notes from ps about us contact contact usps classics mailing listtwitter facebook