The Journey So Far

A chronological stroll thru the history of Broadway Musicals as they came to be recorded by Hollywood--the summation of a lifelong vocation, and a journey of self discovery. Equal parts cultural history, critique and personal memoir. Coming next: The Producers

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Little Shop of Horrors

December 19, 1986,  Geffen/Warners  94 minutes

When I was 34 it was a very good year. I was living in West Hollywood and working in Westwood--which meant a daily drive thru Beverly Hills and the Wilshire corridor in my brand new Honda--soaking in the glamour of LA life. I was still a bookstore clerk, but not for long.  I came to write movies, and in the year since I'd arrived there were some fine ones that encouraged me in my pursuit: Paul Mazursky's Down & Out in Beverly Hills (which revived Bette Midler's film career), James Ivory's A Room With a View, Absolute Beginners, Something Wild, My Beautiful Launderette, Peggy Sue Got Married, and above all Woody Allen's Hannah and Her Sisters--a film I couldn't get enuf of. And for Xmas, the unexpected  Little Shop of Horrors.


Compare this to Bway: just 7 new musicals opened in 1986. Four lasted less than a week, three had major talent behind them, two flops would've been hits at another time, and only one was a success: a 50-year old British chestnut that had never  been  produced in America,  Me & My Girl
Of the unwarranted flops, Rags was a thematic "sequel" to Fiddler on the Roof, with the diaspora in New York. This was a populist idea with real potential, a book by Fiddler's Joseph Stein, music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, directed by Gene Saks and staged by Ron Field--a potential winner; and truth be told the score is terrific--one of the decade's best. But foolish producers opened the musical in early August, and closed it down before the next Monday.  Smile was a Howard Ashman/ Marvin Hamlisch 
collaboration about teenage beauty pageants as satirized in Michael Ritchie's '76 film. It was fun and bouncy enuf (and certainly a hit with the crowd in previews) with potential for Annie-like teen girl fandom. The show eked out six weeks after opening. Not many more were given Bob Fosse's Big Deal--a sad, ironic title for the master's final new work. An incoherent mess of a show with a "book" by Fosse himself, and a score consisting entirely of old songs--giving Fosse  freedom from dealing with any other  creative talent
--a position of acute hubris. It was the stage equivalent of his film burnout, Star 80; a dud quickly forgotten. But Fosse's rep was somewhat resuced by his concurrent revival of Sweet Charity, starring Debbie Allen (later Ann Reinking), a show with an actual book and original score that was already looking like a Golden Age classic. Plays on Bway were nearly as scarce, with only one or two a season of any significance, let alone a film sale. So it's a bit of a surprise to see a studio-made tuner, and from a downtown hit--only the second film ever made of an Off-Bway musical.

Howard Ashman & Alan Menken first teamed up in 1979 for an Off-Bway musical based on Kurt Vonnegut's novel God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. (Do people still read Vonnegut?) The source for their second effort was even more obscure: a Roger Corman cheapie from 1960, filmed in just two days, and dumped as a second-bill in drive-ins before moving into the TV graveyard. But Ashman saw the fun in Little Shop of Horrors--a minor cult film by then. Menken's tuneful palette catches all of Ashman's humor and they proved a good match. Disney was quick to catch on and made them successors to the studio's long-time tunesmiths, the tiresome Sherman Bros. Ashman wrote The Little Mermaid, Beauty & the Beast, Aladdin and another Bway musical (Smile) before succumbing to AIDS at the age of 40. And tho Menken would successfully persevere (unlike Adler without Ross), none of his later partners made as unique a team.

Ashman's adaptation of the original Little Shop movie streamlines the script while adding depth. In the Corman pic, for instance, Audrey is just another flower shop employee with no connection to the dentist--just a disgruntled customer who Seymour kills in self-defense. Ashman turns him into Audrey's sadistic boy friend, giving her more pathos, and motivation for Seymour to take action--but then letting him die by his own hand. Corman's Seymour   becomes  a   serial   killer -- albeit   unwittingly. 
Ashman's is a man of circumstance. In the first, Audrey Jr. (not II) is a funky cross-breed and dies in the end after eating Seymour. In the musical, the plant is a pod from outer space bent on world domination. He triumphs on stage, but was killed off for the screen musical, only to be hinted at rebirth at the Somewhere That's Green garden at fadeout. A great many other extraneous characters were left out of the musical, but not the masochistic dental patient (played by Jack Nicholson in the original--and deemed cameo worthy by Bill Murray in the latest). Ashman created the Black Chick Trio as a sort of Greek chorus singing narration. He also kept the original movie's 1960 time-frame, which dictates its doo-wop Brill Bldg score; and on screen links it--strangely--to another film released that summer: Bells Are Ringing. Both pics capture the feel of the end of the '50s; both have scenes in empty urban lots;  and what other musicals have dentists as characters with their own songs? (Cactus Flower, of course, is about a dentist; altho it's not a musical, it's the type of play that almost seems like one.) Little Shop was produced and marketed by David Geffen, who continued to nurse it to the screen, wisely resisting the invitation to move the show to Bway--where it might easily have won the Tony derby. Ashman, particularly wanted it to remain at the downtown Orpheum. For film director they chose Frank Oz--a veteran of numerous Muppets projects, a man who'd prove as imaginative with the full package as well as being a master of animatronic plants. It was an astute and fortuitous choice, and Oz can be heard giving an intelligent feature-length commentary on the DVD. His well-thought out choices make the movie a charm. For some reason the film was shot entirely at Pinewood Studios in Britain tho its cast and above-line crew were primarily American. The 
lot's biggest sound-stage (dubbed the 007--for its frequent Bond occupancy) was for the massive Skid Row set, a marvel of seedy urban blight; exquisitely art-directed trash. The plant itself--Audrey II--in all its sizes, was a major enterprise for the art deparment At its zenith Oz says there were over 60 people operating the monster. 
Geffen felt forced to alternate the show's original ending when it played to disastrous results in previews. Neither Oz or Ashman agreed, after all it played just fine with the malevolent weed conquering all for over 2,000 Off-Bway performances, but up close on screen, Seymour and Audrey won the audience over and a happy ending was substituted to far happier results.

As fine as the original Off-Bway cast was, only one standout truly emerged, and that was Ellen Greene's Audrey--the role of her life. She was a minor cult figure already for her unique personality, shown in roles of great variety; primarily her stunning turn as Lenny Baker's girlfriend in Paul Mazurky's wonderful '50s-set, Next Stop Greenwich Village; and opposite Raul Julia as a guttural Jenny in Richard Foreman's exciting retake on Threepenny Opera at Lincoln Center. Had Little Shop moved to Bway, Greene would surely have won the Tony. Such was Ellen's stamp on the part that her return to it some 30 years later at Encores! in 2015 was greeted with Maria Callas-size ovations. Much of that must be credited to the movie--for preserving her sad, sweet, iconic waif of a woman; proving her casting fully justified. Tho, it could as easily gone somewhere else (alledgedly the studio had wanted Cyndi Lauper, or Streisand (tho I can't imagine she'd even entertain it); Cher would've been a more interesting option. But thankfully, Greene got her tombstone role, and she's a delight whether dreaming in her puffy pink bedroom, kowtowing to her brutish b.f. ("Yes, Doctor"); or playing housewife in a fantasy of domestic-bliss. Tho "Somewhere That's Green" is full of cliches to make us to feel smug and superior as we laugh at them, Greene's Audrey voices them with such sincerity we see her point in its purity.

Rick Moranis was a fine choice for Seymour. A veteran of SCTV, the Canadian sketch comedy series, he was beginning a streak of leading roles in Hlwd films, albeit largely as an "ordinary guy." Here he's a nerd by virtue of his glasses and turtle-shy behavior--tho he's actually quite handsome. For Seymour, he's so obvious to type, he was actually cast before anyone knew if he could sing. He could. As his boss, Mushnik, Vincent Gardenia brings an Italian touch to a Lou Jacobi character. More inspired was allowing Steve Martin to roll with the bully dentist, Orin Scrivello--renamed from the original, Phoebus Farb for no discernible reason. He's gleefully savage and nowhere better than in "Dentist!" his love song to himself. 


Frank Oz brilliantly holds for the reveal, having Scrivello pulling a Brando on a motorbike thru the long verse leading up to the refrain:

     . . . She [his mother] said my boy I think 
     someday/You'll find a way
     To make your natural tendenices pay
     You'll be a . . .
and then zipping out of his leather jacket, revealing his dental scrubs on the very word   . . .
      Dentist!
      You have a talent for causing things pain

As he flings his arm, carelessly slugging his unwitting nurse (none other than Miriam Margoyles, who later gained fame for her richly comic, often Dickensian characters.) In the rest of the number he careens thruout his office, a happy torturer. But Bill Murray tops even Martin's hysterical antics in a later scene (taken from the original film, but cut from the stage musical) as the looniest of masochists, giving face to a orgasmic delight in pain. Nicholson's take in the original is nowhere near as polished or funny. A few other cameos feature James Belushi and Christopher Guest, but best among them is John Candy, as a sweetly goony radio DJ. As for the plant--essentially a main character--the movie, like the stage show goes with a deep voiced black man. In this case, Levi Stubbs, the lead singer of The Four Tops. He gets to vocalize on a couple of numbers, but am I the only one who finds it slightly racist to use an obvious black man's voice for a botanical stand-in for the Bogey man?; reinforced by a new song written for the film, "Mean Green Mother from Outer Space." I can't help but feel an undercurrent of white paranoia: fear the black man. I wonder how different a menace Audrey II might've conveyed with an unexpected, unique voice--like say, Truman Capote or Beatrice Arthur. Ample use of would-be Supremes, Crystal, Ronnette & Chiffon, does much to lighten up the mood. They pop up at unlikely moments, always in new outfits that are humorous and glamorous at once. A needed relief from the drab Bowery denizens.

From the opening narrative scroll against a starry sky that imperceptively dissolves into an oily puddle splattered by a discarded empty bottle, it's obvious there's a careful visual intelligence at work. Oz says the entire film was story-boarded to work out musical beats to maxiumum effect. Our black girl trio emerges from an alley flashed by lightning, dressed in balloon skirts to sing the title tune; untouched by a downpour pummeling the pavement; 
leading us into Mushnik's flower shop, down into the basement to introduce Seymour. That's engaging enuf, but after a brief scene to bring Audrey into the picture, the girls reappear, this time dressed as real characters; teenage schoolgirls who Mushnik shoos away, imploring them to "better themselves." Fat chance for that here, which smoothly cues in the song "Skid Row," As the girls walk out of frame, from the end of the alley a flock of scattered pigeons precedes the entrance of a large, elderly black woman to begin the song. She sings the verse coming down the alley, where in seconds, Chiffon has morphed from her part in the narrative back to a Supreme in pearls & cocktail dress as vocal back-up--along with Crystal & Ronette. The whole number is so brilliantly executed, almost a live-action Mad magazine parody, with bums rolling over in the gutter to pop their lines. Stripped of all glamour, the sets and ensemble members are utilized perfectly to the song's rhythms; the downtrodden moving like zombies to the beat. Each person a distinct character--it feels as thought-out and integrated as Jerome Robbins unveiled Anatevka in "Tradition"--and choreographed to the film's frame. It shows what clever musical staging is all about, and bears repeated viewing. If it isn't quite true that nothing else is as good in the film, there's certainly nothing better. It's a slice of real musical comedy Rahadlakum.



I suppose it's ridiculous to say that the least interesting parts of the musical are those concerning the botanical Bad Seed, but I find my delight in the show subsides once that takes greater focus, and especially when the damn thing starts talking, let alone singing. Up to then we have a few other delights, including the mock-Supremes cavorting on a rooftop (with neon sign) in scarlet disco togs singing a new, slightly off topic song, that starts off as the stage show's "Ya Never Know" but quickly turns into a less appealing "Some Fun Now." But dancing on NYC rooftops is never less than appealing in itself. The choreographed punchlines of "Dentist!" have already been noted, proving Steve Martin's inherent musicality. Then there's Audrey's wistful wanting song, "Somewhere That's Green" a world imagined off the pages of Better Homes & Gardens (an actual issue plucked from the '50s) where she cooks like Betty Crocker and looks like Donna Reed. Ellen Greene uses her pip-squeak shyness to heartbreaking affect, even as she pines for everything plastic. At least it's clean.

The second half is less interesting musically, tho it does have the show's signature ballad, "Suddenly, Seymour," which is really the whole balcony scene in song--the winks to West Side Story hard to miss, set in the bowels of a demolished tenement. Moranis has a fine voice, but of course it's Greene who sends chills up our spine, while making us smile, letting go to a full-throated wail that sounds less like a Bway belt than a screech from a downtown priestess like Patti Smith or Amy Winehouse. 
Nice touch those Supremes up on a distant fire escape. Even if the encroaching plant scenes pale in interest, the pic moves at such a clip it's all over in 94 minutes. The re-written ending has Seymour eviscerating the demon seed and moving Audrey into her fantasy suburban home. But a final pan into the garden reveals another budding Mean Green Mother. A bit toothless compared to the Plant's victory, dispatching the cast and heading for world domination, but at least a cute nod in that direction. The pic was well received by audiences and critics alike, and finished 24th for the year, with a gross of $38,000,000.  Like many a latter day hit, Little Shop continued running Off-Bway for a year after the film's release. I saw it on a sunny SoCal Xmas Day at the Bruin Theater in Westwood. I had enjoyed the show in NY, without it becoming a cherished memory, so I hadn't much expectation for the movie. All the more it was a delightful surprise.

On the heels of Little Shop of Horrors, the new year flowered in cinematic abundance, beginning with Woody Allen's sweet & lovely Radio Days. One by one the hits kept coming: Trouble in Mind, Black Widow, Making Mr. Right, The Untouchables, Roxanne, with Steve Martin astonishing as never before--and that's just up to June. Jim Jarmusch's Down By Law, the French epic, Jean de Florette, Fatal Attraction--seen on the first night at Grauman's Chinese before anybody knew; Mamet's sly House of Games, the sexy Sammy & Rosie Get Laid; Hope & Glory, the quintessential Keaton in Baby Boom, Barfly, Maurice--an instant gay classic from James Ivory, Housekeeping--a brilliant film from an unfilmable book; Almodovar's lusciously lurid Law of Desire; Gillian Armstrong's High Tide--a modern Australian classic by the director of the joyous cult musical, Starsturck, with an Oscar worthy perf from Judy Davis;  Empire of the Sun, Wall Street, Moonstruck, and my ultimate choice for Best Pic: Broadcast News. And after all this they gave the Oscar to a bloated, thoroughly boring epic: The Last Emperor. And that, too, is Hlwd. The Bad & The Beautiful. For over seven years I had been divorced from my early-life staple: Television. I watched the occasional awards show or special but none of the '80s shows that millenials now nostalgically  reference.  There  was one,  however that got 
under my skin: Knots Landing (recommeded by an unlikely source with high literate/pulp standards: that Heddie). Like 19th Century Londoners awaiting serial installments of Dickens, I eagerly anticipated Thursday nights when Life in the Cul-de-Sac would churn anew. (By chance at the gym I befriended a former KL staff writer, which gave me false hopes for an introduction.)  But Hlwd TV was in the throes of a new girl in town called Moonlighting that rescued Cybill Shepherd from a faded movie career and catapulted a previously unknown Bruce Willis toward a film future. I caught the show's gestalt and wrote a spec script over a couple of months. That script would later secure me an agent.

Not long after I moved to LA, my "sister" Laura, with her new girlfriend, Kathryn, did the same; leaving NY after a decade, giving up theater to pursue her growing interest in the healing arts, which would consume her other ambitions for the next few years. By then her volatile ex, Reno, had another lover: the radiant Susan McCarthy. Even after the breakup fallout, it looked for awhile that Reno & I were to remain friends--as we were all so bi-coastal in those days. But Susan & I were so quickly taken with each other, we snuck off to Vegas for a bonding non-stop laugh-fest. We skirted pursuing a love affair, but Susan caved once back in NY with Reno, who upon discovery predictably freaked out that I was trying to take away her girlfriend. This was the rip in our friendship from which we never fully recovered, 
but I've no regrets. Reno, who would literally get her act together to become something of a minor political comic, got several of her own HBO comedy specials in the early '90s (including a cringeworthy documentary--partly produced by Lily Tomlin--searching for her Latina birth-mother, who embarrasingly wanted nothing to do with her.) Wonderful as she could be, Reno's vampiric energy inevitably exhausted her friends & lovers, who seemed over the years to be legion. But Susan, who would remain a major presence in my life thru the '90s, (becoming, among other things, a charter member of our Vegas entourage, The Enablers--which carried on for years), eventually gave up her lesbian ways and married twice. For whatever reason she knew better than to marry me, tho there was a long period when I could've easily been had.

Surely the best thing Reno ever did for me was put me together with Lisa Loomer. A raven-haired comedienne from NY of Spanish & Jewish stock in the mold of Elaine May or Carrie Brownstein, Lisa had been performing at the East Village WOW collective, where Laura had directed my Hiroshima Beachparty. Reno arranged our meeting at a cafe on Melrose, then neglected to show up. It didn't matter, Lisa & I hit it off immediately, and tho I'm not sure why, she was trusting enuf in my talent to explore our collaborating on a screenplay. (Could Reno have really sold me so well?) Any uncertainty I might have had was dispelled by a play she soon had running at South Coast Rep in Costa Mesa: Birds. We wasted no time, and after not many spitball sessions came up with two scenarios: one for television, a scary "expose" of the air-traffic controller situation at that time (when Reagan fired the lot out on strike, and put the skies in peril); and a sort of female Strangers On a Train with two women, who instead of killing each other's exes, seek only revenge--a comedy. I signed with Lisa's agents (on the strength of that Moonlighting spec) and immediately we were off to meetings all over town--walking onto all the fabled studio lots. After a dozen or so we had a bite from the son of big-shot producer Martin Manulis, John--who bought our feature pitch in the nick of time, saving me from destitution; my first professional writing job--and entre into the Writers Guild. Of course we only received minimum scale but it kept me afloat, and there was more ahead. We plunged into outlining the story. Lisa rushed at it full force, and we had the usual collaborative tensions, but the mix proved good on paper. In the end, Just Deserts, was a heady, almost screwball farce satirizing '80s California culture, with a couple of manic heroines to be played (in our minds) by Dianne Wiest (who to my delight had just won an Oscar for Hannah) and Teri Garr. Studio thinking was more Cher & Julie Hagerty. After toiling for years in retail, or in solitude over my own typewriter (this was just the start of PCs), our daily writing sessions at Lisa's various rented houses in the Hlwd hills were a pleasure. I was in no hurry to have it end. But Lisa was more driven and we wrapped up an outline in a few months, with imput from John Manulis, who then worked to sell it to a studio--while Hlwd was suffering a long, bitter, writer's strike. While we waited, Lisa returned to a play she'd been writing, and not wanting to be idle, I looked for another project for myself.
Little Shop of Horrors

My agents wanted another TV sample, so I wrote a Golden Girls script (which was pretty damn funny) and began work on a screenplay inspired by my Berkeley friend, Martha, who with her two adult sisters took their mother to Europe--suggesting a sort of novelistic Hannah & Her Sisters tale. I ran with that, changed the trip to Egypt, and added a twist of mom reuniting with an old flame, resulting in her decision to stay in Cairo--to the horror of her entire family: April in October. Having no personal sibling dynamics to draw upon, and only my rudimentary impressions from two weeks in Egypt, I struggled with the script for six months, until the Writers strike was finally settled, and in August '88--one year after Manulis bought our pitch, Paramount bought Just Deserts, and Lisa & I reunited to produce a full screenplay--another 6 months work. Upon completion, the notes began. To our chagrin, the studio execs, who were younger than us even then, began dismantling the script's quirkier, better elements. They wanted a more realistic approach--which was against the very grain of the piece. It didn't make sense. Still, we complied with their ideas without entirely compromising our integrity. In the end (in the typical Hlwd cliche) they weren't getting the makeover job they wanted and went for another rewrite with Amy Holden Jones, who had just broken thru with Mystic Pizza--a film whose style had no similarities to ours. We were devastated, even tho we'd still get screen credit--a minor but all-important consolation in jump-starting a Hlwd resume. But unfortunately Jones' neutered revision was so uninspired and the studio so distracted with new management looking to scrap old projects, that it was little surprise Just Deserts went into turnaround. Several years later Paramount developed a similar female revenge driven comedy, upping it to three: 
The First Wives Club--a fair-sized hit that floated more on the strength of its cast (Keaton, Midler, Hawn) than its flimsy screenplay. Still later, Paramount developed the property as a stage musical, with a score by Motown songwriters Dozier-Holland-Dozier. Even flimsier than the film, the show, which had several critically-drubbed tryouts, looks unlikely to ever make it to Bway.

Lisa's roots, like mine, were in theater, where there was less pressure to conform to mainstream appeal; more freedom of subject and style. I was surprised to find that LA was much more of a theater town than SF, tho of course it made sense from a visibility standpoint; actors, writers, directors could all launch careers in small venues (LA's Off-Bway) that would catch the attention of hungry new agents from William Morris & ICM. Lisa would continue to write plays--to greater acclaim, if not financial gain--and had a new one shortly after our break: a witty comedy largely based on her then current romance with a trombonist. A few regional productions followed, but Accelerando didn't really receive the attention it deserved. One play that did was Craig Lucas's Prelude to a Kiss, which Lisa & I saw in its world premiere at South Coast Rep, in an evening that was pure magic.  What  was  probably  the year's  best  new
musical was confined to my ears and imagination; for I only had the album of Tom Wait's extraordinary barroom cantata, Frank's Wild Years, a sort of yang to the yin of One from the Heart. Amazing scores unlike anything else then in musical theater, and nothing whatsoever like Stephen Sondheim or that other one, the Brit. More like Kurt Weill thru an Welsh poet  lens.

In our first year in LA, my housemate (and ex) TC had taken a human-growth workshop slanted toward breaking into film & TV, run  by actresses  Bibi  Besch  &  Rae  Allen
(Bway's Gloria in Damn Yankees who socked over "Shoeless Joe," and had been one of the sewing machine girls in Pajama Game.) I was intrigued and followed suit in the fall of '86. The four-day immersion brought out lots of emotions and bonding, and I came out with a group of new friends, among them the intriguing Albie Selznick--a magician and one third of a former circus act, The Mums--who was in love with David Bowie, and had a maddeningly casual intimacy for a straight boy--a real tease. He introduced me to one of his neighbors in the Santa Monica Towers at the beach, Paul Sand, the beagle-faced actor who'd won a Tony for Story Theater, and had starred in his own Saturday night comedy in the classic CBS '74 lineup between All in the Family & Mary Tyler Moore. (MTM developed the show after Sand charmed everyone as an amorous IRS agent  auditing Mary  during  Moore's  first  season.   For his own
show Paul played a violinist in the Boston symphony and I thought it just as enjoyable as Mary or Bob Newhart, which followed. It was sadly gone after 15 episodes--replaced by The Jeffersons.) Once Albie's narcissistic myopia drained my frustration quota, I began to spend more time with Paul--who actually knew Barbara Harris from their days at Second City, and could tell me about her charming, scatterbrained ways. We had many a nice afternoon or evening sitting on his terrace, talking about our romantic lives. Paul, who has much in common with Lily Tomlin in terms of enthusiasm and energy, and also looks--both of them gay in an unspoken way. Paul had an incredible facility for seducing straight men or at least finding those curious enuf to go to bed once--something I've had no luck at whatsover.

From the Breakthru Workshop I also came away with a bevy of young actresses who gave me impetus to develop an idea I had for a new play I called Doctor Moon. We started weekly meetings at my house as I developed ideas for the script--about a group of women at a spa on the moon, on break from their earthly problems, looking to find their spiritual way home. One of the most impressive shows I saw in LA then was a solo piece by another Breakthru class member, John Fleck, charmingly titled, A Snowball's Chance in Hell. A solo piece of eloquent hysteria, it opened my eyes to how much stage magic could be made on a small budget and clever use of materials and props. Tho I hoped to utilize such economy on Doctor Moon, in my true fantasy, I saw the show at the Winter Garden, a full on-stage orchestra with such varied musical selections as the South Pacific Overture--while the scenery assembles from earth to moon; the waltz from Tchaikovsky's Eugenie Onegin, Duke Ellington's "Caravan," a campfire guitar sing of Talking Heads' "Naive Melody". . . in short a "jukebox" musical--just my eclectic jukebox. Thinking big is my curse. While I struggled with the central core of the play, TC brought in a possible director. Without a text ready for Moon, I gave him Hiroshima Beachparty to read as a sample, and he quickly took greater interest in doing that. TC was going to raise money and act as producer, and I was going to write. Thus for months while Lisa & I sweated over the fate of Just Deserts, I was poking irons into the local stage scene. But as happens far too often in life, things change, people lose interest or move on, and another one bites the dust.

TC, wasn't landing acting jobs, but as a temp he found a new career in advertising--and one much better paying than mine. After a decade in the book trade, I was able to quit Hunters Westwood in May '87, and write full time--which gave me the run of the house most days, and often nights as well, as TC pursued an active social life. He had an easy Southern Jewish charm that drew people to him, but his boyfriends didn't last long in the bedroom, yet shifted easily to friendships; at which point they often became my friends as well, if not more so. Not that I was in any position to criticize, I too cycled thru a series of short term b.f. tryouts until I came upon my ultimate romantic quagmire: Alan. I had just seen and been greatly affected by  Wim Wenders masterpiece,  Wings of Desire--with its 
angels floating thru modern Berlin, when I felt called to a bar one slow Tuesday night, as if guided by angels to be put in Alan's path. It was fated. His opening gambit was to bring up Wender's film. He, too, was a writer, tho not a natural talent --far better at conversation, philosophy, silly humor. And while I was financially desperate, he was a trust fund baby. Within a few weeks we were lovers in every sense but the physical. His continued reluctance was maddening but our connection was so deep it was hard for me to reconcile such a disconnect. Much as we thrived on and craved each other's company, this would become an open wound between us. But this pattern of witholding (always adjusted to my ever-lowering expectations) I soon recongnized as the very essence of my father; which explains why I took so long trying to change what wasn't changeable. My obsession festered several years, but put me on the road to better men ahead.

But if my emotional life was turbulent, as my journals reveal to me now, that isn't what lingers most in my memories of the late '80s.  It was a time of wonderful friendships; the funny/sad Hoosier artist, Randy West; the SF holdover, Tim Witter, who frequently visited, continuing to deepen our connection despite the distance over the years; the funny psychotherapist, Greg Wolfe; the surfer-blonde Rob Sinnott, whose parole (for selling drugs on cruise ships) was ending, freeing him from a 10 year nightmare. And yes, for all the high times with Alan Graison, forgetting the many lows. And the Girls: Laura, Lisa, TC's zany cousin Laney Gradus, the soft-hearted Lynn McCracken, with whom I found a rare quality; being able to ride the same, closed-circuited wavelength to combustible laughter. All above were present for my 35th birthday party (shades of Robert in Company), which I threw myself as a sort of friendship thanksgiving, carefully selecting personalized gifts for each of them, giving me the most pleasure of all. Over time, from this core group our Bonner St. parties (including my annual birthday) grew into joyous events.

One of the absolute highlights of my 1987 was Jane Wagner's new show for Lily Tomlin, Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, at the Hutington Hartford theater in Hollywood, after its year-long Bway run. The air crackled between her & the audience--one truly felt the kinetic electricity. She needed it for the marathon cast of characters she expelled across a very full evening. Perhaps the most profound bits came from the mouth of her zonked out bag lady, who, comparing Warhol's paintings to the Cambell can, asks:

Is it Soup or is it Art?

My life in those times held plenty of drama, frustration, joy, angst and excitement: the soup. But time takes that away. What remains--what I remember most now--is the Art. And in the grand scheme of things, maybe that's just how it should be.


Next up: '80s Also Rans
Report Card:  Little Shop of Horrors
Overall Film:  B+
Stage Fidelity:  B+
Songs from Stage: 10
Songs Cut from Stage: 5
Worst Omission: "Ya Never Know"
New Songs:  2
Standout Numbers: "Skid Row" "Dentist"
     "Somewhere That's Green"
     "Suddenly, Seymour"
Casting:  Starry but Appropriate
Standout Cast:  Ellen Greene, Steve Martin
Standout Cameos:  John Candy, Bill Murray
Cast from Off-Bway: Ellen Greene
Direction: Refreshingly musical, smart, cool
Choreography: Minimal, backup dancing
Scenic Design: Exquisitely tawdry
Costumes: Properly drab or tacky or Supreme
Standout Sets: The massive Skid Row
Titles: Over title song, establishing locale
Oscar noms:  2; Visual Effects, Song:
     "Mean Green Mother from Outer Space"
     Alan Menken, Howard Ashman

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