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Cue Sheet – June 2007


    Last Friday, before I skipped town for the weekend, I forgot to post a notice about this year's Tucson Parks and Recreation Shakespeare Under the Stars production, Much Ado About Nothing. So here's a reminder that this is the final weekend for the show. Last year, I attended Parks & Rec's Taming of the Shew, expecting it to be a very uneven amateur effort, but I was surprised, impressed and delighted by how fine the acting was, top to bottom. I haven't attended Much Ado, and probably won't make it this weekend, but one of my spies, a deep Shakespeare admirer who doesn't put up with badly-done Bard, reports that this is a very entertaining and well-done effort, despite or maybe because of its setting in a Southern California beach town. The final performances are tonight, tomorrow and Sunday (June 29-30 and July 1) at the DeMeester Outdoor Performance Center in Reid Park. In public radio, we have to go through several linguistic convolutions to avoid announcing that something is free, so I won't even bother to try.



    Back in February I drew your attention to an essay by David Hurwitz, of Classics Today, demolishing the HIP argument that vibrato was largely absent from orchestral playing before World War II. I approved of most of Hurwitz’s contentions, but wondered why he drew most of his conclusions from markings in scores—which are open to a high degree of interpretation—instead of bolstering his points with reference to pre-War recordings. Well, Hurwitz now has issued Part 2 of what is looking like a nascent book on vibrato, and he does now examine several recordings.
    If you were intimidated by the large number of examples of printed music in the first installment, give this new chapter a try. There are far fewer score excepts, and Hurwitz repeats and extends his arguments, so you won’t be missing much if you skipped Part 1. The thing does stretch over 75 or so pages, though. I had copied several excerpts to post here, hoping that might inspire you to read the full essay, but the juicy bits I chose look, out of context, more like sheer provocation than elements of a reasoned argument. So set aside an hour or so and dive into a smart and thoroughly researched examination of an issue that’s a lot more interesting than you might expect.

Classical Music,


    In the latest Tucson Weekly, I condescend to approve of the latest romp at Gaslight Theatre:

    Before Austin Powers, before Johnny English, before Top Secret!, and just before Our Man Flint, there was Bond, James Bond, the spy who launched a thousand spoofs. And why not? The early Bond movies (as opposed to the original novels) weren't outright takeoffs, but they had an insouciance, a nudge and a wink that let us know we needn't take the girls, the gadgets and the supervillains too terribly seriously. So why shouldn't others join the spy game and push the silliness a bit further?
    Well, the silliness has been pushed right over the edge in the Gaslight Theatre's latest show, Secret Agent Man, or Gangsters Away! Let's just say that writer-director Peter Van Slyke's priority is not to, as they say in the espionage biz, gather intelligence. Applying much brain power to this show, or even trying to connect the plot points, would spoil the fun.
    There’s also a disco-revival olio at the end of the show, but don’t let that keep you away. Read the full review here.



    As part of its triage effort to stop our orchestras from hemorrhaging audiences and donors, the American Symphony Orchestra League has taken the bold step of—changing its name! Beginning this fall, the professional association and advocacy group will be called the League of American Orchestras. According to a press release issued yesterday:

For the past three years the American Symphony Orchestra League has been engaged in an intensive planning process, more comprehensive than any such effort in the League’s 65-year history, involving extensive consultation throughout the orchestra field and beyond. From that process a strategic direction and implementation plan have emerged that will enable the League to transform itself to better assist orchestras with the innovation, training, research and development, leadership, and advocacy they need. The League of American Orchestras name fits in with this broad new vision of a revitalized and re-energized League.
    Certainly, the League’s image will improve with the abandonment of an acronym—ASOL—that looks and sounds like “asshole.” In contrast, “League of American Orchestras” makes one think of a band of comic-book superheroes. Now, that’s how to appeal to a younger audience.

Classical Music,


    Back in the early 1980s, the local news didn’t have to wedge into little slots in Morning Edition and All Things Considered, as it does now. (KUAT-FM doesn’t carry those programs, but our local news is simulcast with KUAZ, which does.) Newscasts back then lasted a full 15 minutes, give or take a few seconds (there’s no leeway now, when they have to mesh precisely with NPR). Our news director at that time, Tom Machamer, had a very relaxed attitude toward timing. He would always amble his way 20, 30, 45 seconds beyond the formal endpoint of the newscast, intruding into my four-hour block of music. This annoyed me a little, anal-retentive person that I am, but I never made an issue of it. For one thing, it just didn’t matter. For another, I saw no reason to make trouble for Tom, who was an able newsman and a very nice guy. That wasn’t just my opinion. Steve Jess was a KUAT news producer back then; years later, when he became Statehouse News Bureau Chief for Boise State Radio, someone asked him who his mentor had been, and Steve answered, “The news director Tom Machamer in Tucson, Ariz. was an incredible people person who had a gentle way of dealing with people. I try to follow his example personally and professionally.” (Go here and scroll down to Page 6.)
    Tom left KUAT many years ago to do missionary work with his church. His work had taken him to Fiji; I just learned  that recently, he had finished building a house for someone, went snorkeling, then began to feel tired and came out of the water. He died of a heart attack on the beach.
    The process of dying is often ugly, but passing quickly on a Fiji beach, relaxing after doing public-service work? I can’t think of a better way to go for a nice guy like Tom Machamer.



    Here’s my latest screed from the Tucson Weekly. This time, two Neil Simon plays, each of them actually pretty decent (this from a critic who dislikes most Neil Simon), and benefiting from excellent production. Here’s the lowdown on what’s at Live Theatre Workshop:

    Neil Simon is a hugely popular playwright, but not a consistently good one. Although he's celebrated for his comedies, the plays that draw from the more serious episodes in his own life feature better-drawn characters and elicit a more sincere interest in what happens to them. Broadway Bound, now playing at the UA, is a good example of this, and so is Chapter Two, at Live Theatre Workshop.
    Chapter Two documents Simon's devastation upon the early death of his first wife, his unexpectedly fast courtship of actress Marsha Mason and the expectedly difficult first weeks of their marriage. This being a Neil Simon play, we expect the characters to overcome their problems and live happily ever after; little did Simon know when he wrote this in 1977 that he and Mason would be divorced within five years. If Simon had written Chapter Two after that failure—when he was well into Chapter Three of his life—this play would surely have been darker, or at least more wistful. What he gave us is pretty good, although it shifts awkwardly from Simon's usual clusters of throwaway laugh lines to quiet domestic drama, and doesn't really prepare the secondary characters for the transition.
    The rest lies here. Now, on to the aforementioned university production, which is even better:
    The UA's Arizona Repertory Theatre and its earlier incarnation have mounted some impressive large-scale projects in the past decade or two: Nicholas Nickleby, The Kentucky Cycle, Henry IV 1 and 2, The Cider House Rules and maybe one or two others I am by now too stunned to remember.
    I wouldn't put it past them to put on Tom Stoppard's Coast of Utopia trilogy as soon as they can get the rights. Probably the only thing stopping them from launching August Wilson's 10-play Pittsburgh Cycle is that, as Richard Pryor once observed, there are no black people in Arizona, and that presents a severe casting problem.
    You might not be inclined to include in this august company Neil Simon's three plays documenting the maturation of his alter ego, budding comic playwright Eugene Jerome; the Simon plays hold to a more intimate physical, emotional and, yes, intellectual scale. Yet with Broadway Bound, the concluding installment in Simon's cycle, Arizona Rep's town-and-gown team has again displayed the talent and sustained commitment to match its ambitions.
    You’ll find the full review here.


About Cue Sheet

James Reel's cranky consideration of the fine arts and public radio in Tucson and beyond.