The news, emanating from Trump’s aide Stephanie Grisham’s revealing new book, one more entry in a disturbing series in which people close to Trump reveal he’s just as gruesome as he looked, news that they somehow chose to keep private (you couldn’t really keep it a secret) until there was a book to publish – did Trump, besides having a temper horrible, a mean mouth and a contempt for women enough to send a Democratic politician into exile, loves Broadway show tunes. There was, it seems, a “Music Man” in Trump’s entourage, nicknamed, presumably, after the famous 1957 show – which won the Tony for Best Musical over “West. Side Story, ”something still considered outrageous by some – and that person’s job was to“ appease ”Trump by playing tunes he liked in the albums he liked, especially“ Memory, ”the Grizabella song. from the original New York production of “Cats”.
This news, even more than the stuff about appeasing Putin or the North Koreans, seemed to Broadway music fans to be the last straw, or the final tune. Trump’s need to be appeased by Broadway music degrades both the presidential office and a major American institution. It’s hard for those of us in New York City for whom, as Tony’s recollection above suggests, the details of Broadway musicals are almost poorly remembered, to decide which one is more shocking: the worry of ” learning that the Broadway lore is some kind of pacifier for Trump, or the knowledge that Trump has confirmed what people who don’t like a show tunes always thought of a show tunes, that is, that they are what people like Donald Trump love. Tragically, that’s what we got: A critic somehow has to stand up for Andrew Lloyd Webber.
The first consolation one can find is that “Broadway” seems to be used quite narrowly in Grisham’s account, not designating the work of Rodgers and Hart or Stephen Sondheim but, precisely, the music of Andrew. Lloyd Webber. It could be argued — argued — that Lloyd Webber more genuinely descends from pre-Broadway operetta traditions, adulterated with a few clichés of progressive rock, which only conquered Broadway in the absence of actual songwriting. American. In Trump’s case, the American theater would be absolved of its responsibility and land on the larger point: that operetta and autocracy have often had an intimate relationship. Hitler’s favorite music was not only Wagner’s, as much as he intellectually approved of it, but also the echt operetta “The Merry Widow”, which he couldn’t get enough of.
One could even, on this line, distinguish a real love for the best of Broadway from a decadent love for the operetta, discriminating Trump’s apparent additional love for “Les Misérables” from John F. Kennedy’s affection for Lerner and the big “Camelot” from Loewe, who his widow said he listened to every night before bed. (It might well have been Jackie’s invention, taking an event that she probably made to happen once, and turning it into an event that JFK made happen often.) Besides, one could positively cite the Richard Nixon’s affection for Richard Rodgers’ music, especially his score for “Victory at Sea”: “I’m sitting here on time and listening to this album,” he once said. (Nixon was, like it or not, an excellent musician, who joined Duke Ellington at the piano when Ellington was invited to the White House.)
Yet “Cats”, with its solid TS Eliot base, is in truth a rather winning, albeit bizarre, product of the early 1980s – much like Trump himself in his less toxic, larval form – and he doesn’t. You don’t have to be an operetta fan to see the musical as a singular accomplishment. In making his way through this perplexity, he seems to meet, as our grandfathers might have said, meet the apparent subject herself, Betty Buckley, who sang the song that became Trump’s unlikely sedative. Fans of the singer-actress know that she has long been waging a social media war against the Trump campaign’s appropriation of her song, which has treated her quitting requests with the same contempt it treats any other guy. subpoena or, for that matter, other legal requirements (from the estate of Tom Petty and The Rolling Stones) to stop playing music by people who presumably despise him and what he stands for.
Struck at her Texas ranch, where she spent the pandemic isolating and riding cut horses, Buckley – a champion, performer and behind-the-scenes storyteller, and that in the highly competitive Broadway Sopranos division. – had an important story to tell about the song, whose call to Trump has mystified her for so long. She recalled in great detail the long rise to power until the permanence of the song. “Grizabella’s role is really tiny, but he had a huge impact on stage – in fact his only function is to stop the show! If you don’t stop the show, you haven’t done the song! So when I was asked to audition for the show, I felt confident. We had all heard the casting album [of the London version]- heard Elaine Paige’s version of “Memory” – but the photos look like, oh, weird cats on another planet. No one knew what the story was unless they flew to London to see the show.
“Nonetheless, I was a huge fan of Trevor Nunn —’Nicholas Nickleby! ‘ The art was divine. And it turned out that Andrew [Lloyd Webber] had come to see me in “Promises, promises”. So I had my first audition and they were successful because as they told my agent I was radiating health and wellness and they needed a girl who could radiate death and death . She laughed. “It’s hard to overcome. But I had studied with a wonderful singing teacher named Paul Gavert, and I knew I could sing it and I had a powerful feeling that it was my turn. So even though they’re auditioning everyone, inside I’m like, ‘I’m Grizabella. They will come back.
“Six months later my agent calls me and says, ‘They want to see you tomorrow for’ Cats’. ‘So I come in and sing’ Memory ‘. Trevor goes down to the edge of the stage. “More suicidal! More suicidal! ‘ he says. And then I sing it over and over again: ‘More suicidal! Following!’ A third time, and this time he looks really dubious, Andrew is there, everyone is there, he still looks completely dismayed. And I said, ‘Can I talk to you? I understand you auditioned a lot of people for this role, but no one can do it better, and. . . it’s my turn!’ He looked at me, like, What? And my agent said to me at lunch, “When are you going to learn to shut up?” He’s a British director and he doesn’t want to know what a girl from Texas has to say. Two hours later, I had the part.
In rehearsal, however, and even long before premieres, she admits she couldn’t find a way to push the song past the barrier of polite applause. “I was terrified, terrified, terrified. Like that Dallas Cowboys kicker, what’s his name, who started choking on extra points. So Andrew called a special rehearsal and made me start over. “Plácido Domingo was at the show last night and he said, ‘Tell the girl to just sing the song,’ he said. I a m just sing the song, I thought. What is he talking about?
“So I started to think, all cats represent people – and Trevor kept saying that Grizabella is like Marilyn Monroe, she went too far, too much sex, alcohol, drugs and catnip, she is older and dying. . . . She lost her beauty and so I play her like that, super sad. But it’s the early 80’s, right? When New York City was just starting to have a homeless problem. And so I started following homeless people – women my age, women who were like me – literally trying to interpret them. I was playing it pathetically, but what I saw instead on the street were women who were really trying to maintain their dignity, so their self-presentation was all dignity and grace. “Don’t pity me! Their eyes said. A woman from my neighborhood approached me once, and she walks like the most beautiful thing in the world, exactly like Grizabella, white and pasty makeup with red and red lips all smeared; she wears coats and sweaters in layers and layers. Looking at her, I saw her floating down the street in the most graceful way and looking straight at me – her eyes were clear blue – and they said, “You don’t have time to talk, and neither do I, but maybe another time. ‘