The news, taken from Trump advisor Stephanie Grisham’s new Tell-All book – another entry in an ominous series where people close to Trump reveal that he is as terrible as he seemed, News that they somehow decided for themselves (she couldn’t really keep it a secret) until there was a book to be published – is that Trump not only has a terrible temperament, mean mouth, and disdain for women enough to exile a Democratic politician but also loves Broadway shows? . Apparently there was a “Music Man” in the Trump entourage, presumably named after the famous 1957 show – which won the Tony for Best Musical Before “West Side Story,” which some still found scandalous. and that person’s job was to “calm down” Trump by playing tunes he loved from cast albums he likes, especially “Memory,” Grizabella’s song from the original New York production of “Cats”.
This news, even more than the stuff of appeasing Putin or the North Koreans, seemed like the last straw or aria for Broadway music lovers. Trump’s need to be soothed by Broadway music degrades both the presidency and a large American institution. It is hard for those of us in New York who, as the Tony reminder above suggests, are almost uncomfortably memorizing the details of Broadway musicals, decide which is more shocking: the alarm of learning that Broadway Tradition is a kind of mental pacifier for Trump, or the knowledge that Trump confirmed what people who don’t like show songs always thought about show songs – that is, that they are what people like Donald Trump like. Tragically, we came to the following conclusion: Somehow a critic has to defend Andrew Lloyd Webber.
The first consolation to reach for is that “Broadway” seems a bit narrow in Grisham’s narrative, which does not mean the work of Rodgers and Hart or Stephen Sondheim, but precisely the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber. One could argue – one has argued – that Lloyd Webber is more truly descended from the pre-Broadway operetta traditions, falsified with some prog rock stereotypes and only conquered Broadway with no real American songwriting. In the case of Trump, the American theater would be absolved of responsibility and landed on the bigger issue: that operetta and autocracy often had an intimate relationship. Hitler’s favorite music was not only Wagner’s, as much as he approved of it intellectually, but also the real operetta “The Merry Widow”, which he couldn’t get enough of.
In that sense, one could even distinguish an actual love for the best of Broadway from the decadent love for operetta by distinguishing Trump’s apparent additional love for “Les Misérables” from John F. Kennedy’s affection for Lerner and Loewe’s great “Camelot”, his Widow said he listened every night before bed. (This could have been an invention of Jackie, who turned an event she probably once made into an event that happened to JFK many times.) In that regard, Richard Nixon’s penchant for music could be positively quoted from Richard Rodgers , especially his score for “Victory at Sea”: “I sit here for hours and listen to the album,” he once said. (Like it or not, Nixon was actually a good musician who joined Duke Ellington on the piano when Ellington was invited to the White House.)
But “Cats” with its sturdy TS Eliot foundation is actually a pretty winning, if bizarre, product of the early 1980s – similar to Trump himself in his less venomous larva form – and you don’t have to be a fan of operetta to see the musical as a unique achievement. To pave a way through this confusion, it seems, as our grandfathers may have said, to meet up with the seemingly person himself, Betty Buckley, who famously sang the song that became Trump’s unlikely sedative. Fans of the singer and actress know she has long waged a war on social media against appropriation of her song by the Trump campaign, which has treated her calls for termination with the same disdain she treats any other type of subpoena or, by the way, other legal requirements (from Tom Petty’s estate and the Rolling Stones) to refrain from music by people who presumably despise him and what he stands for.
At her ranch in Texas, where she spent the pandemic isolating and riding horses, Buckley – a champion talker, explainer, and narrator of backstage stories and the one in the highly competitive Broadway Soprano Division – had a significant story to tell tell Song, whose appeal to Trump has mystified them for so long. She remembered down to the last detail the long ramp up to the permanence of the song. “The role of Grizabella is really tiny, but she has had a huge impact on the stage – her only function is to stop the show! If you don’t stop the show, you didn’t make the song! So when I was asked to audition for the show, I felt confident. We’d all heard the cast album [of the London version]- heard Elaine Paige’s version of “Memory” – but the photos make it look like strange cats on another planet. Nobody knew what the story was unless they had flown to London to see the show.
“Still, I was a huge Trevor Nunn fan – ‘Nicholas Nickleby!’ The craftsmanship was divine. And it turned out that Andrew [Lloyd Webber] came to see me on Promises, Promises. So I did my first audition and they passed because, as they told my agent, I exuded health and wellbeing and they needed a girl who could exude death and dying. ”She laughed. “That is difficult to overcome. But I had studied with a wonderful singing teacher named Paul Gavert and I knew I could sing him and I had a strong feeling that it was my turn. So – even though they all audition – I say inwardly: ‘I am Grizabella. You will come back. ‘
“Six months later, my agent calls and says, ‘They want to see you again for’ Cats’ tomorrow. ‘So I go in and sing’ Memory ‘. Trevor comes to the edge of the stage. “More suicide! Suicidal! ‘ he says. And then I keep singing: ‘Even more suicidal! More!’ A third time, and this time he looks really dubious, Andrew is there, everyone is there, he still looks completely confused. And I said, ‘Can I talk to you? I heard you auditioned a lot of people for this role, but no one can do it better. . . it’s my turn!’ He looked at me like: what? And my agent said over lunch, ‘When do you learn to shut up? He’s a British director and doesn’t want to know what a Texas girl has to say. ‘ Two hours later I had the role. “
During rehearsals and even in the pre-premieres, she admits that she couldn’t find a way to push the song beyond the barrier of polite applause. “I was scared, scared, scared. Like this Dallas Cowboys kicker, what’s his name, who choked on additional points. So Andrew called a special rehearsal and made me do it again. ‘Plácido Domingo was at the show last night and said,’ Tell the girl to just sing the song, ” ‘he said. I’m just singing the song, I thought. What is he talking about?
“So I started to think: all cats represent people – and Trevor kept saying that Grizabella was like Marilyn Monroe, she went too far, too much sex, alcohol, drugs and catnip, she was older and dying. . . . She’s lost her beauty and that’s how I play it, super sad. But that’s the early eighties, isn’t it? When New York was just starting to have a homeless problem. And so I started following homeless people – women my age, women who were like me – trying to interpret them literally. I played it pathetic – but what I saw in the streets instead were women really trying to maintain their dignity, so their self-expression was just dignity and grace. ‘Have no pity on me!’ said her eyes. Once a woman came up to me in my block and she walks like the most beautiful thing in the world, just like Grizabella, white, pasty make-up with red, red lips, all smeared; She wears coats and sweaters in layers. As I watched them, I saw them floating down the street in the most graceful manner, looking at me directly – their eyes were clairvoyant blue – and they said, ‘You don’t have time to talk, and neither do I, but maybe another time … ‘