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March 22: Happy Birthday Andrew Lloyd Webber and Stephen Sondheim

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Our two headliners today are probably the two most influential figures in musical theater in the post-Rodgers and Hammerstein era.

Andrew Lloyd Webber (or Baron Lloyd-Webber, as he is known today) is turning 69 today.  He is from a musical family—his parents were both musicians, and his younger brother Julian Lloyd Webber is a prominent cellist.  He began writing music at a very young age, and was in his teens when he first began setting T. S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats to music.  A couple of years later, he worked for the first time with lyricist Tim Rice; their first musical was not produced until 2005, but their second became the first hit of a successful partnership that lasted over a decade.

Lloyd Webber’s career is fairly well known and contains a lot of high points.  You have not one but two super-sized monster hit musicals (Cats and The Phantom of the Opera).  You have a good old fashioned big hit (Evita).  You have the huge success in London/modest hit in the US (Starlight Express).  You have the earlier hits with Rice (Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ Superstar).  You have the long-runner that never quite covered its big budget (Sunset Boulevard), and still other less renowned musicals.  And you have a major parade of songs that are known all over the world.

If Lloyd Webber is the Cameron or Lucas (or maybe Spielberg, if you are a fan of his) of the musical theater world, Stephen Sondheim, who is celebrating his 87th, is probably the Woody Allen.  Sondheim got his start on Broadway as a lyricist, working with Leonard Bernstein on West Side Story and then with Jule Styne on Gypsy.  He then turned out his first musical as both lyricist and composer, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.  He had a bit of a dry patch in the mid-to-late sixties, but then combined with producer/director Hal Prince for the most productive era of his career, a string of five highly-regarded musicals beginning with Company.

Sondheim’s career since his partnership with Prince ended has been uneven, but has included the Pulitzer Prize winning Sunday in the Park with George along with one of his most popular musicals, Into the Woods.  Along with that Pulitzer, Sondheim has won eight Tonys, an equal number of Grammys, an Oscar for Best Song (for “Sooner or Later” from Dick Tracy), five Olivier Awards, and even an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America (for the screenplay for the 1973 film The Last of Sheila).

Picking just one song to represent Sondheim is nearly impossible, but here’s one good one that I haven’t previously used in other birthday articles (as a bonus, it’s sung by a recent birthday headliner):

WTHH subject Reese Witherspoon is turning 41 today.  She made a reputation in films like Election and Pleasantville, broke out as a star in Legally Blonde, and won Best Actress as June Carter in Walk the Line.  She received a second Best Actress nomination for Wild and currently stars on HBO’s Big Little LiesMatthew Modine, the star of films like Full Metal Jacket and Memphis Belle, is turning 58.  Cole Hauser, who is 42 today, is known for his roles in films like Pitch Black and 2 Fast 2 FuriousKeegan-Michael Key, who celebrates his 46th birthday, co-created and starred in the Comedy Central sketch series Key & Peele and has had roles in Tomorrowland and Keanu.

William Shatner, who as all know played Captain James T. Kirk in both the small and big screen versions of Star Trek, turns 86 today.  He also starred in the 1980s crime series T. J. Hooker, played the Big Giant Head on 3rd Rock from the Sun, and won two Emmys in the role of Denny Crane on The Practice and Boston Legal.  That’s not to mention his writing career, which includes Star Trek fiction and the Tek War novels.  Veteran character actor M. Emmet Walsh, who is 82 today, is known for his roles in films like Blade Runner and Blood Simple.

James Wolk, who is 32 today, stars as Jackson Oz on the CBS series ZooNick Robinson, who turns 22, starred on the first three seasons of Melissa & Joey and has had major roles in Jurassic World and The 5th Wave.

Swiss actor Bruno Ganz, who turns 76 today, has worked in German cinema, especially with director Wim Wenders on films like The American Friend and Wings of Desire.  He has also been in films like the 2004 version of The Manchurian Candidate and The ReaderLena Olin, who turns 62, also appeared in The Reader and was an Oscar nominee for Enemies, a Love Story.  French actress Fanny Ardant, who is 68, is a four-time Cesar nominee, winning Best Actress for Pédale douce; she also played Mary of Guise in ElizabethMarcel Marceau (1923-2007) was a French actor and mime, known for his “Bip the Clown” stage persona.  Haing S. Ngor (1940-1996) was a Cambodian gynecologist who won Best Supporting Actor in the role of Dith Pran in The Killing Fields, and continued acting until his death in 1996.

Basketball Hall of Famer Easy Ed Macauley (1928-2011) was a star in the early years of the NBA.  A seven-time All-Star in the 1950s, he helped the St. Louis Hawks win the franchise’s only NBA championship in 1958.  Bob Costas, who is turning 65 today, has been one of the most recognizable faces to American sports fans for 30 years or more.  He has covered baseball, football, basketball and much more, but is probably best known for hosting NBC’s primetime coverage of the Summer Olympics since 1992 and the Winter Olympics since 2002.

Louis L’Amour (1908-1988) wrote 89 novels and 14 collections of short stories, most of which was Western fiction.  His books have sold well over 200 million copies.  Nicholas Monsarrat (1910-1979) used his experiences as a sailor and a Royal Navy officer in World War 2 to write realistic novels such as The Cruel SeaJames Patterson, who turns 70 today, is an ad executive turned novelist who has sold somewhere between 150 million and 300 million books, most of them crime thrillers; they include the Alex Cross novels, the Women’s Murder Club series, and the novel Zoo, the basis for the TV series mentioned above starring James Wolk.

Leonard “Chico” Marx (1887-1961)—his name, by the way, was pronounced “Chick-oh”—was the eldest of the Marx Brothers.  His performing trademarks were his dark, curly wig, his Tyrolean hat, and his faux-Italian accent and mangling of the English language.  And his very real talent at the piano:

Before he became best known for reminding Americans not to leave home without American Express traveler’s checks, Karl Malden (1912-2009) was an Oscar winner for A Streetcar Named Desire.  He was nominated for a second Oscar for On the Waterfront, played Gen. Omar Bradley in Patton, and starred on ABC’s The Streets of San FranciscoWerner Klemperer (1920-2000) and his family—his father was the great conductor Otto Klemperer—were Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany.  He was a two-time Emmy winner as Col. Wilhelm Klink on Hogan’s Heroes, and was a Tony nominee for the 1987 revival of CabaretJoseph Schildkraut (1896-1964) won Best Supporting Actor as Alfred Dreyfuss in the 1937 film The Life of Emile Zola, and later starred in the role of Otto Frank in both the stage and film adaptations of The Diary of Anne FrankKeith Relf (1943-1976) was best known as a co-founder and the lead vocalist of The Yardbirds; he died of an accidental electrocution at the age of only 33.

Braxton Bragg (1817-1876) was a prominent military leader during the American Civil War, on the Confederate side.  He was a very difficult man to work with, as seen in an anecdote about his pre-war service.  Bragg was a company commander at an Army post, and also served as the post’s quartermaster.  At one point, Bragg, as company commander, requisitioned supplies for his company.  Then, as quartermaster, he denied the request.  He repeated the request and denial again and again, until the post’s commanding officer had to intervene: “My God, Mr. Bragg—you have quarreled with every officer in this Army, and now you are quarreling with yourself!”

If today is your birthday, congratulations on sharing your big day with these notable names.  Birthday wishes to everyone celebrating a big day today.  Come back tomorrow for more celebrity birthdays.

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Posted on March 22, 2017, in Celebrity Birthdays and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. The picture of our two headliners (Sondheim is the one with the beard, if you don’t recognize them) comes from a special concert titled “Hey, Mr. Producer!” It was a tribute to stage producer Sir Cameron Mackintosh, who has produced musicals written by both Sondheim and Lloyd Webber. So the two composers came up with a little duet to contribute to the concert:

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  2. Remember yesterday when I was singing praises for the film “Election” due to Matthew Broderick’s birthday? Well I get to praise Election again as Reese Witherspoon co-starred in this underrated classic. I had no idea their birthdays were just a day apart until now.

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  3. I know next to nothing about musical theater, but I am familiar with Andrew Lloyd Webber and Stephen Sondheim.

    I remember liking Reese Witherspoon when she was the girl from all those indie movies. At some point, she found a great deal of success making rom coms and after a few of those I was done with her. After seeing Sweet Home Alabama, I decided that Witherspoon no loner made movies for me. It was a long time before I saw another movie she starred in.

    Matthew Modine should probably get a WTHH some day. It seemed like people were always expecting him to be a movie star. Arguably, Modine is a fine actor. But he was never a movie star.

    William Shatner is an icon and he knows it. It’s a shame he was talked into doing such a lame death scene in Generations. You know he thought it would lead to a Search for Kirk movie which he planned to direct. But no. Instead he just died in the dirt.

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  4. How Disney Saved Musicals for a New Generation

    http://www.denofgeek.com/us/movies/disney/237960/how-disney-saved-musicals-for-a-new-generation

    Despite Stephen Sondheim using this decade to reinvent the form into one of drama and even tragedy onstage during a period when young Andrew Lloyd Webber would do things like turn the story of Jesus Christ into a rock opera narrated by a sympathetic Judas, the movie musical had seemingly breathed its last breath for a Boomer generation that generally rejected its supposed frivolity. For every oddball success story like Grease (1978), there were plenty more Xanadus, Rocky Horror Picture Shows (which was not a hit in 1975), or even Newsies 15-years on. There simply wasn’t a big enough audience for live-action musicals. At least that is what studio logic dictated, especially when the suits took over in the ‘80s.

    Ironically, it was that transition that permitted new ambitious thinking at Disney. When Roy E. Disney brought in Michael Eisner, Frank Wells, and Jeffrey Katzenberg to Disney, they engineered a creative overhaul from top-to-bottom. While this new corporate structure initially undervalued their animation legacy, with CEO Eisner going so far as to tell Diane Sawyer that they only make animated movies to fulfill an obligation to the studio’s history, they nevertheless course corrected Walt Disney Animation Studios (if only to compete with Don Bluth) from the likes of The Black Cauldron to something more on par with the bland doggie-musical Oliver and Company. However, it also set the stage for new talent to resurrect the Disney animated musical proper—and by extension the movie musical as a whole.

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  5. Comment could not be posted, but I did say a lot; saw “Cats” on VHS, Lena Olin was sexy in the sexy “The Unbearable Lightness of Being, William Shatner’s “T.J. Hooker” character sure asked for a lot of dinners on the series, Matthew Modine was one of those performers Hollywood tried to sell the public, but he did some good work, and my favorite Reese Witherspoon (though I’m hardly a fan) film is “Freeway”. Bah Dum Dum Dum, a big fat whale.

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  6. My spring break has arrived so I finally have a little time for detailed commenting. Although there were several big names born today, for a musical theater lover there was no doubt in my mind who the headliners were going to be—I had this pairing picked out months ago. I will admit, though, that Andrew Lloyd Webber is not my favorite musical theater creator. I think Phantom is a tad overrated, although it does have some catchy tunes, and I also partly blame it for bringing the “big budget-tentpole-franchise” philosophy—which we have talked about in relation to films here at le Blog quite a bit—into the musical theater realm. I do like Cats quite a bit, and I have several favorite numbers from other Lloyd Webber musicals, such as “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” or “Take That Look Off Your Face.”

    I am still exploring Stephen Sondheim’s full output, but everything of his that I’m familiar with, I like. His early work as a lyricist, on West Side Story and Gypsy, is some of his best known. I also am a big fan of Company and A Little Night Music, and although Into the Woods is sometimes thought of as lesser Sondheim, i found it quite interesting as well.

    I’ve been following Reese Witherspoon for about twenty years now. I really enjoy several of the rather edgy and daring role she took on in the nineties, such as Election and Freeway. Legally Blonde isn’t a huge favorite of mine but it did show she could carry a movie. As a Johnny Cash fan, not to mention a Carter Family fan, I really enjoyed Walk the Line; I thought that Witherspoon made a very good June Carter and was a worthy Oscar winner. At the same time, it was a very safe, conservative choice of roles. Since then, she’s made some pretty dubious choices of roles, and tarnished her “good girl” image, maybe permanently.

    William Shatner. Because of him, my image, of a starship, captain will always, be of a cosmic, womanizer who, inserted lots of extraneous, commas, into his speech.

    What Shatner was to punctuation, Chico Marx was to English grammar, although in Chico’s case it was intentional. He was part of my favorite grouping out of all the great comedy teams in film history. My take on the Marx Brothers is that Groucho was there to break the fourth wall and relate to the audience. Chico’s purpose was to drive Groucho crazy, and Harpo was there to drive Chico crazy, while Zeppo never really fit into the act.

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    • William Shatner continued with the womanizing characters as T.J. Hooker, where I swear he asked a woman out to dinner at least once a show, and sometimes twice. T.J. Hooker ate hearty.

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