God Bless You Mr. Rosewater Demos
God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, the first show that Howard and Alan worked on together, has been on my mind a lot lately. Howard was artistic director of the WPA Theater and had just directed a workshop of Maury Yeston’s musical, Nine at the O’Neil Theater Center in Connecticut. Maury tells me that he remembers suggesting to Howard that he talk to Alan Menken. Alan tells me that he remembers Howard wearing a leather jacket and being extremely businesslike and somewhat aloof at that first meeting. Which sounds about right except for the leather jacket. It was probably pleather, since Howard could barely afford rent and food at the time. Either way, clearly both men saw something there that wasn’t there before (as it were) because they began working together.
But the show has been on my mind because the zeitgeist for a revival of Rosewater is so right. I offer as proof the following:
First we have Occupy Wall Street. If you’re not familiar with Rosewater (and I sincerely hope you are, if not the show then the seminal Vonnegut novel on which it is based) it is a story of wealth and greed and a kind and crazy man who tries to use his inheritance for good.
The first major biography of Vonnegut (titled And So It Goes) has just been published.
There’s interest, teeny interest but interest, in producing a CD of the show (I can’t call it a cast album because we would be casting for a CD not a show).
Last week, Bill and I met with two quite wonderful actors to talk about a revival of God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater.
Then yesterday Ryan Wong posted on Feed Me a Youtube channel that Justin Kudwa created featuring Howard and Alan’s Rosewater demos.
I’m embarrassed to say that I hadn’t remembered about those demos. Howard sounds so young, and because he’s playing a character but not really playing a character’s voice (ala Mrs. Potts, for example) those demos sound more like Howard to me than some of the later, more sophisticated ones.
This would have been one of the first times (if not the first) that Howard actually recorded his own songs with a composer. I think it must have been a pretty heady experience. Hearing those demos, I hear Howard as I remember him best – I hear his sincerity and his talent and mostly I hear his youth. There’s the hope of success, the seriousness of purpose, the pleasure in his own voice and his own words, the joy of working with a musician he is coming to trust. They’re wonderful recordings.
I only have one complaint. The photo that accompanies the demos is not one of my favorites. There aren’t many photos of Howard and Alan at the piano so this one gets used a fair amount. It was taken during the recording of Beauty and the Beast and Howard is ill and bloated from medications. And, to me, he looks haunted.
Sometimes I feel like Bob Hope when I see and hear this stuff. Really, what else can I say? Thanks for the memories.
(By the way, there was a third person involved with Rosewater. Dennis Green co-wrote some of the lyrics. He’s promised to share some of his memories of that time so stay posted.)