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Updated: July 06, 2013
- Both Barrels: A Salvo of John Forster Songs
- Now A Good Swift Kick (currently closed)
|Theater News & Reviews||November 12, 1998|
Los Angeles Times Theater Review
Musical Satire 'Both Barrels' Hits the Bull's-Eye
By F. KATHLEEN FOLEY, Special to The Times
ust as one is lamenting the death of wit in modern culture, along comes "Both Barrels: A Salvo of John Forster Songs" at LunaPark. A dazzling musical satirist, Forster shines forth like a bright light in an intellectual wasteland. Forster's lyrics are reminiscent of Cole Porter at his peak, with a little Tom Lehrer tossed in. Make no mistake: Forster is no retro phenomenon; on the contrary, he's an unfailingly mordant social satirist who brilliantly implodes the inanities of contemporary mores.
The exceptional cast--Wanda Houston, Paul Kreppel, Gerry McIntyre, David Naughton and Elisa Surmont--tears through Forster's meaty music with obvious delight. Kreppel underpins his deceptively insouciant staging with adamantine timing, and Murphy Cross' inspired choreography gets maximum mileage out of this postage-stamp stage. Under the astute musical direction of Steve Orich, the evening is one continuous succession of showstoppers.
The opening number, "In the Closet," savagely sends up the contradictory implications of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gay members. "Co-dependent," performed by Houston, gives a new slant to the old-fashioned torch song: "You hold your breath, dear, and I turn blue, 'cause I'm so co-dependent on you. . . . You unstable you, I'll enable you."
The lyrically offbeat "Spores" rhapsodizes the virtues of asexual reproduction. "Figaro Todd" is a portmanteau parody that simultaneously skewers both Rossini and Sondheim. "The Big Mac Tree," a driving calypso number spearheaded by McIntyre, lampoons the devastation of rain forests by Western commercial interests. And the cheeky finale, "The All Purpose Carol," is a hilarious holiday pastiche for the '90s. If you don't fall out of your chair laughing, consult your doctor.
"Both Barrels," LunaPark, 665 N. Robertson Blvd., West Hollywood. Fridays-Saturdays, 7:30 p.m. Ends Nov. 28. $15. (310) 652-0611. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.
Copyright 1998 Los Angeles Times. All Rights Reserved.
John Forster to Hit Goodspeed, then New York, with Both Barrels
Come May, Connecticut's Goodspeed Opera House will be hit with Both Barrels. That's the name of a new five-person revue of songs by John Forster which will begin performances May 6 at the theatre and run through May 30, said Goodspeed spokesperson Jennifer Wislocki. The revue will play the company's second space at the Norma Terris Theatre in Chester, CT, and then move to an Off-Broadway theatre in New York directly afterwards.
Forster, who writes both the music and lyrics for the revue, is best known for the book and lyrics to the Mary Rodgers musical Freaky Friday. Recently he was nominated for a Grammy Award as co-producer of Tom Chapin's children's album "In My Hometown." Both Barrels is described as "20 miniature musical plays" poking fun at a variety of societal topics.
Paul Kreppel will direct Both Barrels, with Steve Orich acting as musical director.
--By Robert Simonson
Copyright © 1995-99 Playbill Online. All Rights Reserved.
|Los Angeles Times|
|Sunday Calendar||February 21, 1999|
Songs in the Key of Public Life
Satirist John Forster makes fun of a host of societal topics in the underground hit 'Both Barrels.'
By KRISTIN HOHENADEL
Calling strangers on the telephone usually involves repeat spellings of this reporter's obscure last name, a phonetic translation (Ho-eh-nah-dell) and a ritual delay while they practice it aloud or make a few jokes.
Yet on a recent afternoon when I phoned songwriter John Forster at his home in South Nyack, N.Y., to interview him about his underground hit "Both Barrels: A Salvo of John Forster Songs" currently at LunaPark, not only did he have the pronunciation down, but, he told me, he'd already written a Hohenadel song.
In his drawer, he explained, is a children's tune he wrote a few years ago, about some grade-school classmates with the hilarious name of Hohenadel (yep, that would be my dad and Uncle Rick). "It's modeled on 'Our Gang,' but there's a haunted house and the Hohenadel family moves in," Forster said in his deep, wry voice. "I had fun with the kids and the name. It's a kind of Hohenadel fantasia."
Six degrees aside, the unlikely coincidence says something about the retentive mind of this musical satirist. His "Both Barrels" is a musical cabaret in which a cast of five sings, dances and acts out 20 miniature one-act rhyming nonlinear musical plays. Topics include modern love ballads like "Way Down Deep (You're Shallow)" and "Codependent With You," a torch song for the 12-step set. Born from yesterday's headlines, "In the Closet" ridicules the Clinton administration's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. "The PACman" is a rap-style roast of political and tobacco company hypocrisy. "The Tragique Kingdom" mocks Disneyland Paris as "the theme park only for the French," with "Nostalgialand" and "Intellectual Land . . . with a Jean-Paul Sartre labyrinth that asks you why you are here. . . ."
"I'm like a cultural trash compactor," says Forster, 50, of his influences, naming everything from Sondheim to opera to Frank Zappa. He keeps copious notes on life, he says, never knowing when he'll need them. Songwriting, he says, "is the way I process reality." But that process often takes some time. There are no Monica songs yet on the playlist. "I can write on deadline like lightning," he says, "but my songs tend to evolve over a period of time. They're sort of topical and they're not. Stuff interests me as it floats by; a lot of times I have to think about it for a while."
* * * Forster began writing songs at Harvard, where he founded the long-running satirical revue "The Proposition" and wrote for Hasty Pudding Theatricals. He moved to New York and began writing musical revues, songs for his own traveling one-man show and children's albums. In the early '90s, he finally recorded some of his unusual brand of musical satire on Rounder Records ("Entering Marion," 1993, was followed by "Helium," 1997, and "The Official Bootleg Album" in 1998).
He is most often compared with lyricist Tom Lehrer. "I want there to be more people," he says. "Because you really need three people to make a trend--and I've been dying to be part of a trend." Why is he so alone in the musical world? "I think because it's a style of thinking rather than a style of music," he says. "There is no one style of music that I work in, there's no chart in Billboard for what I'm doing; there's no category in the Grammys."
Still, he's just received his first Grammy nomination as a co-producer of Tom Chapin's children's album "In My Hometown," an arena in which he also likes to work. "When I'm writing a song for children I remove all the sex, and I replace it with violence," he says. "That's my rule of thumb."
* * * To turn his motley list of songs into the 70-minute "Both Barrels," Forster turned many of the solos into duets and ensemble pieces, writing in harmonies. For the director and the actors, it meant finding a way to dramatize each song and develop characters where once there was only a man and his piano, doing all his own accents. During the process, Forster came to Los Angeles to sit in on rehearsals.
Members of the cast say he was a good sport. "I found him to be so flexible and generous with allowing us to play with his pieces," says actress Elisa Surmont. "And he can compose on the spot--he's got this wonderfully acrobatic mind."
When the show opened in October, says actor David Naughton, "we were terrified. There's no real through-line; each song is a separate performance." He says Forster was poker-faced in rehearsals. "He's a thinker, so he's not a real demonstrative, boisterous guy. You'd never suspect this guy could write this stuff. He looks like a math professor--you know, tweed jackets with the elbow patches, glasses and a shock of gray hair. He'd be a great contestant for 'What's My Line?' " But in the end, Naughton says, the actors learned to trust the material. "His stuff works and [the audience will] get it," he says. "Our job is just to tell the story."
Actor and "Both Barrels" director Paul Kreppel has known Forster since they did improvisational theater together in Boston in the late '60s. "I've always felt connected to his material," Kreppel says. "I haven't found anyone who doesn't appreciate him. Even if you don't get it," he says, admitting that there were "several things I had to look up."
Forster says he "loves the cast" and enjoyed the collaboration. "I'm not a control freak," he says. "I get tired of my own limits as a performer. Performing is really fun, but I don't need to do the songs 100 times." The new material, he says, "is written to their strengths. I'm doing a piece that's very Zappa-esque with a close harmony, something I wouldn't think of doing for myself."
"Both Barrels" is in an open-ended run at LunaPark, and plans are in the works to take a production to the off-Broadway Lucille Lortel Theater in May. And that, they hope, is just for starters.
"I think this show could be done anywhere," says Forster's longtime friend and producer Sandy Faison. "Why not Boston and Chicago and even London?"
For the New York opening, Forster is writing some new material to bring the show up to an hour and a half. "I gave up cigarettes 15 years ago and it's hard," he says of the writing process. "Cigarettes help you rhyme." But the toughest thing about writing, Forster says, is finding the right tone--especially when aiming your double barrels at such a sensitive array of topics.
" 'Both Barrels' hit a tone that is not vicious; it's more good-natured than I thought it was going to be," he says. "I'm not attracted to viciousness. I'm more interested in ideas than in being personal. It's easier, but the dish part isn't really what interests me, because it's gone in two months from now."
* * * "BOTH BARRELS: A SALVO OF JOHN FORSTER SONGS," LunaPark, 665 N. Robertson Blvd., West Hollywood. Dates: Fridays-Saturdays, 7:30 p.m., except dark this Friday. Indefinitely. Price: $15. Phone: (310) 652-0611. - - -
Kristin Hohenadel Is a Freelance Writer in Paris
Copyright 1999 Los Angeles Times. All Rights Reserved
FOR TICKETS OR INFO, CALL GOODSPEED: (860) 873-8668
FOR RELEASE: April 19, 1999
New Musical Revue BOTH BARRELS To Open Goodspeed-At-Chester/The Norma Terris Theatre 1999 Season
Laugh at the absurdity of modern life when Goodspeed Musicals presents the hilarious musical revue BOTH BARRELS: A SALVO OF JOHN FORSTER SONGS with book, music and lyrics by John Forster, in development at Goodspeed-at-Chester/The Norma Terris Theatre in Chester, Conn., May 6 - 30.
This musical variety show has the cast singing, dancing and acting out 20 mini-plays satirizing a host of societal topics, including In the Closet, a savage send-up of the militarys dont ask, dont tell policy, The Big Mac Tree, which lampoons the devastation of rain forests, and Way Down Deep (Youre Shallow), a look at modern love.
John Forster is best known for the book and lyrics to the Mary Rodgers musical FREAKY FRIDAY and provided lyrics for the 1995 Goodspeed-at-Chester musical THE DREAM TEAM and ELEANOR at Fords Theatre. This year he received a Grammy nomination as a co-producer of Tom Chapins childrens album In My Hometown.
BOTH BARRELS will be directed by Paul Kreppel, who directed Alan Menken and Howard Ashmans musical of Kurt Vonneguts GOD BLESS YOU, MR. ROSEWATER, the world premiere of QUIRKS and the national tour of GODSPELL. As an actor he appeared in AGAMEMNON, COMEDY OF ERRORS, GODSPELL, and JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT, as well as the television series Its a Living and is seen currently as Jackies dad on That 70s Show.
The BOTH BARRELS cast includes Wanda Houston, who originated the role of the wicked stepsister Magnolia in Musical Theatreworks SISTERELLA and appeared in regional productions of NUNSENSE, CAROUSEL and BEACH BLANKET BABYLON; Mark Martino, who has been seen on Broadway in OH, BROTHER!, off-Broadway in the long-running hits FOREVER PLAID and FORBIDDEN BROADWAY, and at the Goodspeed Opera House in CARNIVAL; Kevyn Morrow, who appeared on Broadway in THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL, SMOKEY JOES CAFE and DREAMGIRLS; Jim Newman, who created the role of Happy in Broadways STEEL PIER and appeared in SUNSET BOULEVARD and THE WHOS TOMMY, and originated the title role in the national tour of BIG; and Elisa Surmont, who has been seen in regional productions of THE GREAT GATSBY, ALICE IN WONDERLAND and THE ROBBER BRIDEGROOM.
The set designer for BOTH BARRELS is Kenneth Foy, with costumes by Mariah Hale, and lighting by Jason Kantrowitz. The musical director is Peter Orich.
Following the Thursday evening performances on May 13, 20 and 27, Goodspeed-at-Chester will host Talkbacks, an informal discussion to give audience members the opportunity to meet the cast and creative team and provide valuable feedback for the new musicals development.
In addition to BOTH BARRELS, Goodspeed Musicals is currently selecting two more new musicals to run this summer, August 5 - 29, and fall, November 11 - December 5.
Now in its 16th season, Goodspeed-at-Chester/The Norma Terris Theatre is the Goodspeed Opera Houses second stage, dedicated to the development of new musicals. Since its inception, 39 new musicals have been produced at Goodspeed-at-Chester, including HARRIGAN N HART (1984), SWINGING ON A STAR (1994), BY JEEVES (1996), and EXACTLY LIKE YOU (1998).
Season subscriptions for Goodspeed-at-Chester are currently on sale at $66 for all three musicals, and single tickets are $27 through the Goodspeed Box Office (860/873-8668), open seven days a week. Curtain times are Wednesdays at 2 and 8 p.m., Thursdays and Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 4 and 8:30 p.m., and Sundays at 2 and 6:30 p.m. The theatre is located on North Main Street in Chester, Conn. (Exit 6 off Route 9).
The 1999 season at Goodspeed-at-Chester/The Norma Terris Theatre is sponsored by The Norma Terris/A.D. Firestone Foundation. Goodspeed gratefully acknowledges the support of American Airlines, the official airline of Goodspeed.
|Time Magazine Review of the New York Production |
AUGUST 16, 1999 VOL. 154 NO. 7
Short Takes - Theatre
A Good Swift Kick by John Forster
With Broadway musicals intent on offering messages instead of laughs, it's
no wonder that comedy-starved audiences have been flocking to off-Broadway
revues. Spotlighting mankind's tics and follies, composer-lyricist John
Forster has created the freshest and funniest of them. Whether targeting the
timely (Thomas Jefferson's DNA) or the timeless (romantic mismatches),
Forster delivers hilariously. The cast of five is just about perfect.
- By William Tynan
COPYRIGHT © 1999 TIME INC. NEW MEDIA