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In your review Katy, I love the way you described the foot stamping in PADAM PADAM, as if that were the actor’s memories ‘assaulting him’. And your interpretation of SAY A LITTLE PRAYER makes perfect sense. I’ve been struggling with trying to explain exactly how his mother left him, trying to explain both IF YOU WERE THE ONLY GIRL IN THE WORLD and LITTLE PRAYER, and I knew there was something in those two songs that I wasn’t picking up on and I think you’ve got it here. Interesting comment too on his being both a slave and a master of his art. Show business then becomes both something he knows he cannot love, something he’ll regret, but still something he can’t banish from his thoughts. Very intriguing.
The way you described and in a way, justified, the individual and varied interpretations of the show as it meaning ‘that none of us will come away from it with the same map of where we’ve just been’ is excellent. I think it’s so accurate and quite a poetic take on the theme of the ‘journey’. And it does again bring it all round to the ‘alone together’ idea, too – we all take a unique path in life, but we’re together in making the journey as a whole.
Marie, I absolutely love the way you looked at HAPPY TALK. I noticed the ‘wings’ with his arms, but I didn’t think about them as you did, like soaring wings in an attempt to allow him to stand on his own. That seems to fit it perfectly. The final reference to the ‘star’ being himself is quite a brilliant observation too.
Yes, Marilyn, I absolutely agree with you. This show is meant to mirror the lives of all of us as we go our ways in life, searching for what every person needs to feel, acceptance and love. It seems to me like the performer is meant to be an extreme representation of this, though not extreme in such a way as to make it overblown or unbelievable.
Ronnie, I can’t believe how many different takes on ONLY GIRL/LITTLE PRAYER have been offered, but somehow, they all make sense. For some reason I’ve always been stuck on the idea of those two songs being related to the point of view of the father (in some way or another, whether they be from his point of view or from the performer remembering his father with his mother), but I never thought to look at it as the mother. I really like that idea. I also find your thoughts on GOT NO STRINGS interesting – the idea that he may believe to be totally detached, but there still remains something to tie him down to his memories and to his past. Very true, especially when considering his inability to ever allow himself to love later on.
Pat and Katy, taking what you’ve pointed out about the songs not being able to fit into a clear-cut plot line – time to take that and run with it! It’s true that the only way you could get a straightforward storyline is to write only original music, but that’s the point here – to allow it not to be crystal-clear and to allow the story to be a story that’s entirely open to interpretation based on personal experience. And perhaps (this may be way out there, but oh well) that’s the way the performer felt his own life to be – like a puzzle with so many pieces, but none of them fit perfectly and smoothly together.
Katy, your questions of why the performer is telling his story is a very intriguing one. I think part of the reason is given in the title of the show. He wants to share with us what life has taught him: that even when we feel totally alone, we’re always alone together. And yes, I do agree with you that we are seeing the performer at some sort of turning point, a corner around which he may finally find the hope that he believed he lost for so long.
And I remember you describing to me way back when you first heard the show, how those slightly off-key cords struck you (proper musical term is dissonance). I remember you saying that they seemed to you to be a reflection of the performer’s life, a life that was always searching for something good, something more, but that never could quite grab hold of it. I’ve kept that in mind each time I’ve seen the show and I think you were very observant in hearing that. Interesting theory on the contrasting rhythmic patterns, Debbie.
You know, I’d really love to hear how Michael interpreted the Donmar show and it’s story. Some of it is obvious in his facial expressions, etc, but even more of it, I’m sure, is more subtle. It would be interesting to see how he found his own personal experience as an actor/performer related to the story and how that influenced the way he chose to do the songs. I really like the quotation from him that’s up on the official site, where he mentioned that the show was supposed to raise questions, but he never said he had the answers. I’d still like to know what he thought of it though.
I had always given Michael two characters – one to tell the story and the other to live it. That was mostly because he kept saying this was not about him – actor/story – in the end when he comes back to the stage and sings the final song, it is like he is putting the two characters together.
It is really is interesting to go back and read this stuff, especially after a couple of days go by…different people’s interpretations are so fascinating. It is this, which renders the whole thing unique (telling a story without writing original music). And it is so darned clever! I can’t imagine the work it took to cull through song after song after song…looking for the ones that would fit the rough storyline they had…songs which would provide the continuity they wanted…I really think the whole thing, top to bottom, was a brilliant creation! I wish we could hear more of Michael’s thoughts on the whole thing as well. He may need some distance from it to be able to really look back and see what he’s done; I hope he’ll talk at length about it some day.
I just LOVE that last song, THIS IS WHAT IT IS…it’s such a relief to see this poor character finally reach this moment of acceptance and peace. To see him know he can go on. And Michael sings it so beautifully.
OK! Act II
The Medley - at the start of the medley, the character is happy in what he is doing, we see him gaining strength, confidence, and making the decision to stop living life from the sidelines before it’s too late. The character sets out on this exciting adventure traveling up and down the country doing whatever it takes…romantic drama, comedy, or melodrama to get the required reaction from the audience. He has left a relationship of his own behind to follow this dream, but further on it is hinted that he is now missing that relationship. Later in the medley we get the suggestion that everything is not what it seems…the forced smile in S’WONDERFUL. The reaching out to the four different directions in LET ME SING A HAPPY SONG show the character being pulled from pillar to post and a loss of control. Until in the end the character is asking was this all that he’d been born for and singing the same words he’d sung at the beginning of the medley, but now the joy has gone out of it. All the adulation had given him an acceptance he hadn’t experienced before. It had created a happy place for him to be, but it wasn’t enough because at the end of the day he was still alone.
I changed my mind about SHE TOUCHED ME half way through it…I don’t think the she of the song is a person. She is all the good feelings he had been feeling, the happiness. It had made him think that she belonged to him, when in fact he belonged to her. In YOUR JUST IN LOVE he remembers how powerful and intoxicating it was and in YES MY HEART he realizes that this was his chance to escape the past and he decides to take a step back and listen to what his heart is telling him for once.
Marie, I saw that bit in LET ME SING A HAPPY SONG as you did…the way he kept thrusting his arm out in one direction, then the other, with a degree of distress on his face like he was being pulled. Took my AT soundtrack on my park walk tonight and really concentrated on everyone else’s impressions rather than my own. It’s really great how this show lends itself to so many interpretations. I rally listened to Jason Carr’s fancy finger-work as well, and am so impressed with him! When the medley came around, I caught myself grinning ear-to-ear and thought ‘Gee the people I am passing going the other way must think I am really HAPPY to see them coming!”
I like the idea of Michael taking on two characters in the show and may I venture to suggest a reason why you’ve seen it that way? Could it be because the character that is telling the story has become some sort of variation on the character that has lived it? The circumstances of the performer’s early life have changed him in many ways and molded him into a completely different person than the one he was when he was a boy. As Katy pointed out, she sees the character to be at a turning point at the end of the show. That turn around can be interpreted as the third variation to the performer, as he begins to take hold of his life and find hope instead of despair in all it has done to him. But the character cannot come to this turning pint until he has come to terms with his part and reconciled character #1 and character #2.
I understand what you mean about the turning point. I wanted to separate what I saw as an emotional point of view from an objective or narrative perspective. To take a step or two back from the pain in the story. I saw a person telling the story and setting it in motion, but the lines between the observer and the character become thinner as the story develops.
The last song is the song connecting the character to the audience. He sings about stars again – the same stars that used to twinkle in his eyes and then began to fall around him. The stars are gone ‘I ought to follow them into the night, but here feels good, feels almost right.’ This is the connection he has failed to make all through his life until now. He is even willing to share his fears ‘this is what it is to wake up, yeah (this is wonder and enlightenment) this is what it is to feel warm, yeah (for the first time he is experiencing this) this is what it is to be filled, sure; this is what it is to be lost help; this is what it is to feel scared, God’. This is the path back into life for him. This is what it is to know the day and meet the sun (we have come out of the shadows and left the stars behind – and this time it is we, the presenter and the audience because we have made this journey together). Life is shadows and light – just like the stage in this performance. The presence of one will change the appearance of the other or drive it away.
I like the idea you had about SHE TOUCHED ME being metaphor Marie.
I had thought of it this way, he had a new relationship that was making him very happy. She smiled – she knew I was interested and wanted to tell me – the world is alive and shining and nothing will ever be the same. And it feels so good – all day long I seem to walk on air. He didn’t believe it when she touched him and he can’t understand it now. My heart’s trying to tell me something – TELL ME SOMETHING, speak or pound or spin. She is wonderful and he believes this is real, his heart is pushing him toward her. Life could be so wonderful. He holds his arms out and spins around – he is open to life. Yet, there is a ‘but’ here – he can’t trust his heart to speak to him. His heart has led him wrong before. He doesn’t talk to her about any of this. This joy he is experiencing and these feelings of love he keeps to himself. There is no communication of feeling in any of those three songs from him to her. The first thing he tells her is ‘remind not to find you so attractive, remind me to be sorry that we met.’ He pushes her away because he doesn’t want to be hurt again. He doesn’t want to feel surprised that he didn’t die of the pain of this lover walking away from him. The way not to be hurt is not to feel. I will regret this he says, but I don’t believe he realizes the experience will be more painful. He held himself back from telling her he loved her. He understood that this could be the love of his life, but he gave her no reason to stay. This was the pain in WHAT NOW MY LOVE. She was the last of so many people who had gone from his life. The world is turning up side down ‘here’s the sky where the sea should be.’ Act II is almost a song by song experience.
Love the two-character take. It’s true he has become someone else. In one way I see it, the character(s) comes full-circle within the entirety of the show. He starts out as character #4, the self-actualized one, the successful performer, who still suffers the insecurities of being under the microscope of the stage. He then decides to tell his story of how he got here and in remembering, shows us who he was, all in memories. Character #1, a little boy who had a very troubled childhood, then Character #2, the person produced by that childhood, damaged but determined, a person in denial with a dream. Character #3, who turns to look at himself and reaches his live or die crisis, then back to character #4, the one we saw in the beginning. Another way I view it is more ‘real-time’, that the narrator character decides to tell us about his life and that during the telling, he experiences his crisis and we actually witness his breakdown and recovery as it happens. I can’t decide which scenario I like better! The second is more tragic, as we are faced with his real pain, whereas in the first, we are witnessing the soul-shaking experience of his recalling his pain and just the recollection is so shattering he relives it acutely and us with him.
When I first saw ALONE TOGETHER I thought the ‘she’ of SHE TOUCHED ME was a person, but I changed my mind a little ways into the song. I have tried all day to find the words to describe how I saw it and I’m not sure I have now, but I’ll have a go.
“She” was the feeling of happiness, the buzz, he got from performing. It had made him lower his guard, enjoy life. He had never expected to ever feel such contentment, but there was no getting away from it. This thing had given him a love for life and his life would never be the same again. He remembers how intoxicating the happiness had made him feel, how because of it he had seemed to, until recently, breeze through the last few months/years of his life without a care. Dreams he had thought were out of his reach, had instead been his for a time. ‘Stars that used to twinkle in the sky are twinkling in my eye.’
The character decides to listen to what his heart is telling him for once. His heart is saying that this wonderful thing is there for the taking, that this is his chance to be happy and leave the past behind him. I saw Act II (well the whole performance really) as being this person’s struggle to find his way in life. The character doesn’t feel he deserves to be happy. So, he asks to be reminded that he doesn’t need this joy in his life. He is trying to deny himself any happiness, just because he can. The best way not to get hurt is not be let yourself feel anything in the first place. Although maybe he could be persuaded if ‘she’ was persistent enough.
He wishes he could forget what he has experienced, but he can’t. It doesn’t mean he has to love it though. He feels ungrateful for tuning his back on such happiness but he wanted his life to remain how it was because he felt in control then. The character has experienced a love and acceptance he had not felt before and despite trying to ignore it, it had affected him whether he liked it or not. Perhaps he’d be sorry in the end, but he would be a fool to throw this chance away.
For me WHAT NOW MY LOVE is the character at his lowest point. If he walks away from his new life to return to his own loneliness, he feels that there will be nothing left for him, no one would miss him if he did anyway. He had seen how good things could be and that he didn’t have to be alone or aimlessly going through life. Our friend has a decision to make, either he accepts the offer of happiness or he ignores it and if he is going to ignore it maybe it is just better if it is all over and done with now. The pain and anguish is written all over the character’s face, but it gradually fades away…as the realization hits him that the problem is not what other people think of him, it’s how he feels about himself. That he had been happy before he let his insecurities creep back into his life to haunt him. He sees now that he is the only one who can solve the problem, that it has to come from within him. Otherwise it will always be like this…life is full of injustice of things that have no logic to them. Bad things happen to people and as far as his own demons go, well maybe they weren’t so earth shattering after all. The only person he is hurting is himself.
After a time of reflection, the character can see a light at the end of the tunnel. All his questions will be answered in full, simple questions like is it warm or cold, light or dark, will he be alone or reunited with loved ones, will it be like the life he knows now with trees and material things, will he regret all the things that are left behind, unsaid and unfulfilled or will they all just fade away. In the end these questions can only be answered when the time eventually comes. He must put the past behind him and live the life that had been chosen for him to live.
This happiness, acceptance, and contentment are a part of him now. He belongs to it and as long as he welcomes it into his life, he can face anything. The bad times he had encountered had not been a waste because without them he couldn’t have recognized the good times when they happened ‘the starless nights were not in vain’. This unconditional love that ‘she’ had brought into his life would help him face anything life had to throw at him in the future. Now our friend has found a kind of peace at long last. His decision to stop living in the shadows of the past and to look instead to the future is a huge step forward. He’s not completely comfortable with it yet, but it does feel good to experience a whole spectrum of emotions now and not just the dampened down feelings he had allowed himself to feel in the past. He knows now that he is not the only one afraid of failure or of living life to the full.
I was in two minds about AFTER THE BALL after looking at the video. The way Michael takes his time to scan the faces of the audience made me wonder if he was singing this song as himself. Alternatively, I thought of it as a sort of epilogue that we are revising the performer after a time to find him still performing, still happy, and giving back to the audience some of the joy he gets from them.
I don’t think we are picking apart the show. I believe we are doing just what we were meant to do ‘think’ about what it all means…not sure there is only one way to see it. I go with the four characters…to me he begins where he ends up…He wants us to know of his journey…to understand that the pain he went through did not destroy him…instead it made him strong enough to face the pain and demons and come out into the light…maybe things aren’t perfect but he got through it all and now knows where to find the peace and happiness he has been searching for. I think he wants us all to see that, we are all in this Alone Together. To find the light he had to get through his darkness.
Yep, that’s my first ‘instinct’ about it as well Donna. Marie – your interpretation is very clever and who knows, you may be the only one to have it right.
Thanks, but that honestly was just the way I saw it. One person telling his story, from starting off in present time to being thrust right back in the character’s earliest memories of his childhood in SON OF, LITTLE PAL, etc. Then on right through his life up until the end of the medley. When the lights go up again for NICE DREAM I think we are back in the present and we are now aware of the reasons the character didn’t want to be judged in the first place. From then on I think we are in real time and we are then watching the character trying to take all the things that have happened to him and put them into perspective to decide what to do with himself next. Until eventually by the time we get to THIS IS WHAT IT IS our friend has done this and found some direction. Maybe one of the reasons there are so many ways of seeing this show is because there were three heads put together to create it, so that could mean at least three different takes on a particular song.
Goodness, we have so much space dedicated to this poor tortured soul…I think we need to name him.
I’ve always heard MAN THAT GOT AWAY as being from the performer’s (err…whatever his name is now!!! Perhaps we should just dub him the “hero” and get it over with!!!) perspective talking about his father leaving him and all. Well I still think that’s the way the song begins with the performer focused on how that event effected his life, but his last line (which I never picked up on until hearing a different recording of the song a couple days ago) brings it around to focus on his mother instead of himself. “There’s nothing sadder than a one man woman looking for the man who got away.” And from there he goes on to the ONLY GIRL/SAY A LITTLE PRAYER bit. It is like what Jonathan said in the little interview clips – one song leads into the next and inevitably has an emotional impact on it.
I know we’ve hashed SAY A LITTLE PRAYER to death by now…well, I can’t help saying one more thing on it. I watched it this time with the previously suggested view that this was the song where his mother left him by dying (dare I say it was from a broken heart when that one man left her?) I’m totally convinced now that that’s what the song is trying to say. He begins softly and gently, eyes almost closed and downcast, as if he were looking at his mother lying before him. As he goes about life and his daily activities, he tries to forget, but ‘the memories keep coming back to remind me’ of her and he can’t let go. He ends the song looking up and off into the distance, up to heaven, ‘darling, believe me,’ he says, ‘there is no one but you.’ Declaration of undying love, yes, but also a foreshadow of the way that love keeps a grip on him later in life, never allowing him to love anyone else that deeply again.
And here again comes that idea of one song having a direct influence on the one that follows. Originally, I had taken HAPPY TALK to signify a development of a relationship between the performer and someone else (I think I was caught by the ‘talk about a girl, talk about a boy’ line), but that doesn’t seem to make sense now. Earlier up in this thread somewhere, there was a discussion about this song being the performer drowning his sorrows away by drinking. The connection is certainly there and I can’t see how I didn’t pick up on it before. He opens the song in a way that suggests he’s trying to convince himself that he needs to ‘talk happy’, that only by doing so will he be able to leave behind all the misery and pain that he’s experienced. It’s like the senseless topics ‘talking happy’ (the moon, a bird, the star…) are just a distraction from reality – truth can be escaped for a while in that bottle. And Michael really does a good job at this (which is why I can’t ‘believe’ I didn’t pick up on it before) – the way he’s all over the stage during this song, flailing his arms, with that silly grin on his face half the time. There’s no control there, just like there’s no control in his life, except his ‘happy talk’, which keeps reality at bay.
The first line of BEST OF TIMES struck me this time around: “What’s left of summer but a faded rose”. One line that serves as a representation of both his life and himself as a person, for both are deteriorating right before his eyes. At this point he feels like there’s nothing left that’s good in life. He has become that faded rose, once so promising in the summer bloom of youth and potential, now nothing but a wilted man.
Oooh, and back to that medley!! I know I’ve said this before, but I just loooooove the lighting during the whole thing. The single spotlight and the footlights during the vaudeville bits, the red-hot lights of Carolina, the blue skies, the simulation of the doorframe shape to produce the shadow, and of course those really cool train effects. Incredible moment, that medley. And it’s amazing how much of a story is told in that relatively short period of time – from the initial determination to climb to the top, to the arrival at ‘the big time’, to the touring across the country, to the actual performances there, to the relationships while on the road, to what was left when its all over. Absolutely amazing, I can never watch this through just once – I always end up needing to rewind it.
The last line of NICE DREAM was another thing that struck me particularly this time through. He just finished that whirlwind of a medley/tour/show and is all alone…it was a nice dream, but a dream is all it really is. This isn’t reality, he realizes, and I don’t belong here; a person can’t belong to something that isn’t real. ‘If you think you belong…’ he says as he fades away. And it is at this point, this moment, that he removes that façade of showmanship, the jacket that symbolizes his stage career and his stage persona. If you think you belong, then you’re wrong…this isn’t you…’you’ is what lies beneath, ‘you’ is that exposed and vulnerable man sitting in solitude when it’s all over. ‘You’ is as inescapable as that song of your soul.
And I think that learning to face ‘you’ as you really are is another thing this show is all about – learning to accept yourself, learning to deal with yourself and your own past, learning to find hope in it and learning to know that others do the same thing every day, all around you. It’s about learning that ‘you’ isn’t something to be avoided, like the performer tried to avoid his past. It’s about facing up to it, despite all the painful memories it will inevitable invoke as we see thoughtout the entire show. And most of all it’s about building off of it, rising out of it on that last ray of hope that appears in the end.
Rebecca…THE MAN THAT GOT AWAY…I see it as you do…the way at the ending of song he pauses, looks to his left ‘as to his mother’ as he sings line, “a one woman man’…with the lighting and look on his face and then line ‘good riddance, good-by’. I am still not always sure about ONLY GIRL/SAY A PRAYER…at times seems he is singing all to his mother…but then is he singing all to her or at end of SAY A PRAYER is he remembering her words to him? I see it differently at times.
HAPPY TALK…the drinking is there…not rally happy at all…not happy about NO STRINGS…at end of HAPPY TALK…the way he slurs and takes a swig of water ’booze’…his body language more than suggest his drinking and then comes THE BEST OF TIMES…not really for our Hero…smoking and the way in which he is smoking…not for pleasure…no way.
The medley…I agree with your views of touring…success…lovers…but never a love. Why was I born…to make you happy…not him, not any longer…he is alone…and he is in pain…and he knows it…hut how to get happy…find peace…he takes us through his journey I think to show us that no matter if you are in pain darkness…you are not alone…we are all together…in the light…
When I watch this video I see things and say ‘oh that’s it!’ I can see other’s interpretations and then I see something of my own. But just watching and not trying to figure out song meaning…It is a beautiful journey of acting, lyrics, piano, lighting.
I kind of agree with you about HAPPY TALK Donna, but I do think our Hero starts off happy and full of ambition and expectations. He is talking about standing on his own two feet. Being the best person he can be (as his father had asked of him) but he was going to make sure he had a great time doing it. The over enthusiastic and slightly manic way the song develops in delivery is almost as it he is trying to convince others he is right and at the same time trying to prove it to himself. He talks about becoming famous and standing out in a crowd ‘talk about a star looking like a toy, peeking through the branches of a tree’. I agree the booze is there in the manner in which the last swig is taken from the water bottle. Then in THE BEST OF TIMES and IS THAT ALL THERE IS the character gives the reasons he feels the way he does, he reinforces his argument. The look of determination and complete conviction on his face towards the end of THE BEST OF TIMES shows at that moment he really believes in what he is telling himself.
Rebecca, as you were saying…we are really getting closer together in that one section. This is exactly how I was seeing it. When he sings LITTLE PAL, there is no affection in it. That may have been his father’s expression for him, but he didn’t want a ‘pal’ – he says it with such bitterness. He wanted a father – and his father is not doing very well as a father or as a pal – another reason why he does not let people get very close as he gets older. He is remembering this conversation now that he is an adult with the child’s pain and the adult’s perspective and with a certain amount of anger. Dad is more into feeling sorry for himself than in giving Hero words to live by. The anger continues into the next song about the man who got away – it’s his pain and his mother’s. He knew
how she felt when he was a child and now that he is an adult remembering this he can understand it now. When he sings IF YOU WERE THE ONLY GIRL he is trying to promise his mother he will take care of her. When he is singing he is looking up like a small child would to an adult and he has this hopeful, trusting smile, like a child would smile. At the end, he doesn’t finish the song. He sings ‘if I were the only boy in the world…’ and the piano ends the song all alone.
SAY A LITTLE PRAYER changes in mid-song. Ordinary things that a child would see and think about and promise – together forever you’ll stay in my heart and I will love you. Then the song changes, the piano becomes louder, the words are different. Now it is ‘memories that find me keep coming back to remind me’. The tense has changed ‘oh how I loved you…it only means heartache for me.’
Mother and father have both hurt him. Mother left him when he still needed her. Father never wanted him. Together they ended his childhood – he had to run before he could learn to walk. He was made to take on additional responsibilities and he was not ready.
This is why he cannot cut those strings suddenly and move out on his own. Nothing for him is finished. His parents separated – he could not keep them together. He tried to take care of his mother, but it was not enough. Hero must have thought all relationships could only end in tragedy.
Does anyone see mother as leaving him for another relationship? After he had to grow up fast…be the man of the house…promise mother he will take care of her. Mother leaves him…when he still needed her…but if she died…he would be sad…not bitter…not feel no matter how hard he tried to run before he could walk…how hard he tried to take care of his mother it was not enough…she left him for someone else…so he has to say good-buy…to move on…no strings…but now he can’t or doesn’t want to trust anyone…his father left…without even wanting him…was he bad asked later in the show…but does he feel he was bad…not enough for either mother or father to love him…stay with him…so why should a lover stay with him. Yes, Rebecca…I took some of your thoughts…and he must have thought all relationships end in tragedy…that was your thought and it does fit. He must have felt no matter what he did…it would never be enough…Success…wanting at times to love someone but not able to…he would never be able to do enough to deserve love. But at the end our Hero finds himself and then peace...and love. Love is there in the light.
Hi Donna – I don’t think his mother deserted him for someone else. I really think she died. She never got over the failure of the relationship with the father and may have held on to the son too tightly after that. In the second part of SAY A LITTLE PRAYER he is looking up at her – in heaven. And there are all those conflicting emotions with death, sadness for yourself, anger at the person for leaving you – going through so many stages until you reach acceptance. In the second act when he is thinking about what would death be like and heaven he expects to see her there. He has this reflective, wistful expression much like during PRAYER.
I am not saying you have the wrong idea about this, Donna. I just feel she died and that is why he is alone contemplating his liberty with that ‘I am going to be free or die trying’ piano pounding behind him. His relationship with his mother is incomplete. Perhaps it was a reason for the end of his ‘that’s all there is’ relationship. He hadn’t finished mourning his mother and tried too fast to end the loneliness in his life. There is such regret in that ‘mother, father’ at the end of that song. I think both parents had died by that time and that was the reason for the sadness and the bitterness. The relationship was past healing on all sides. There was only that heartache.
I don’t thing the mother left for someone else, but I don’t think she dies at this point either. I thought that came later in THERE’S NO BUSINESS LIKE SHOW BUSINESS and the forceful way the ‘but you go on’ line is sung suggests that because he chose not to be there for her at that time, that this is where some of his later guilt comes from. I took the looking up during SAY A LITTLE PRAYER to be the child in him remembering how he spent his life feeling responsible for his mother, being her protector, her confidant. The mother does recover her strength and because she is no longer in this abusive relationship she is not so fragile and vulnerable anymore. Therefore, she doesn’t need her son to lean on now. This is when the character is left without a defined role in his life anymore and he feels betrayed by both his parents. One who was never really his anyway so he never got the chance to know him and one who he thought would always lean on him, but in the end she didn’t need him either. Of course, I might just want the woman of the piece to come out good in the end.
Marie…Yes I think she does die later ‘but you go on’…that would explain guilt and pain…also I see what you are saying, mother didn’t leave him for someone else…she just didn’t need him anymore…how painful for him…so I change my thought of ‘she left him for someone else’ to agree with you…she just did not need him…So back to my last post…no matter how hard he had tried…no matter what he did…she left him…as his father did…neither of them needed him…so why should he expect anyone to stay…anyone to love him…he can’t trust any more…he pulls away if a lover gets too close. Until he finds the light…then he can go on…not be afraid to trust…to love…to reach out…to give…to be happy with himself and his success…Does any of this make sense?
Ronnie…in second act while looking to heaven…by that time mother has died…but I don’t think she died earlier…he says ‘goodbye’ as in he is leaving because mother no longer needs him and father already gone…never needed him…Not sure about father…when at end looking to heaven…no mention of father being there also…earlier he sings ‘son of a thief’…could father be in prison or just ran off…I think the spotlight going out…the two circles of light…don’t mean they both died…just went away…left him to be on his own…so he has no strings.
On to THIS IS WHAT IT IS…when song starts spotlight not full on him…as song continues…light on his face…brighter…his face is after all the pain we have seen before…now looking relaxed…peaceful…the spotlight is brighter on his face…and his eyes are bright without pain…our Hero has come through it all…into the light…and in doing so tells us not to be afraid…we are all ALONE TOGETHER…
Marie…I just remembered you saying that you may want the mother to come out good…I am not sure she is bad…just that maybe she didn’t realize how much he still needed her.
When I said come good in the end, I didn’t mean she was bad. I meant that she had got herself sorted out, grown in her independence. Found an inner strength and spirit and not let herself be burdened by the past. Unfortunately in doing so, she unintentionally increases her son’s torment.
“I don’t think his mother deserted him for someone else…she may have held on too tightly…” Or it could have been the opposite Ronnie, that in her grief she became completely self-absorbed with her misery and forgot poor little Hero altogether.
“When the lights go up again for NICE DREAM I think we are back in the present….”. Interesting Marie, I am going to have a look at that perspective.
“I think the song begins with the performer focused on how that event affected his life… there’s nothing sadder than a one man woman looking for the man that got away.” Yeah, Rebecca, that one line is important. When I listen to that song, it strikes me as his singing of the effect his Dad’s leaving had on him directly and the effect it had on his mother and how that affected him simultaneously. Though I still saw his mother as having left him by dying, it seems to me that she abandoned Hero emotionally before leaving him physically and this contributes to his anger at the end of SAY A LITTLE PRAYER…she left him twice. You are seeing exactly what I saw in that one bit the very first time I saw it…it is the exact part that made me feel she’d died: the downcast eyes and sad trailing off…I too, felt he was looking down at her on her deathbed or even at her funeral. I really like your faded rose analogy.
“Does anyone see mother as leaving him for another…?” It’s certainly possible Donna. I don’t envision her actually physically leaving him as in having him live elsewhere (though she could) But I do think she likely abandons him emotionally out of her inability to get over her husband leaving. It could be she was unable to function without a man in her life and could even start a series of dysfunctional relationships with other men in her inability to be alone, thereby leaving poor little Hero not only with a poorly defined role for himself, but with no stability whatsoever in his life.
Marie, I agree with you on HAPPY TALK in that the song is the performer trying to persuade both himself and others that he is worth something and he still has dreams and the motivation to pursue them. I think that’s also seen in STAIRWAY TO PARADISE – climbing to the top is about proving yourself to yourself and about showing the world you can go on. It’s as much about self-gratification as it is about an intense desire of “I’ll show you”. And back to that ‘emotional influence of one song on the next’…the performer feels as if he’s failed with his parents because they left him and he’s out to prove that he really is worth something.
The tracking of the references to stars throughout the entire piece is another interesting study. Yet another one of those connections between a life and a song.
I like what you said about LITTLE PAL
and the bitterness the performer felt when his father called him that,
he wanted a father and not a pal and was cheated out of both. In
pronouncing pal in the song, Michael actually distorts his face so you
hear the bitterness, but you also get the feeling like he’s almost disgusted
with his father. And another random thought, could that bitterness
also arise from the responsibility the father was placing on his son when
He asked him to take care of his mummy, to grow up way before he should have - resentment could have been created because of that as well. We do need a separate thread for each song!!!
I agree Katy, the mother probably emotionally deserted her son before she physically left him. I do see SAY A LITTLE PRAYER as her dying and those first whispered lines being him standing over her, looking down at her. I don’t think he knew anything more about the father after he left.. The father more or less died to the performer when he abandoned him – he experienced the loss only once and that’s why no mention of the father occurs in the rest of the show. With his mother it was different. She left him more than once: emotionally she abandoned her son when he husband left her. I agree she was too focused on her own misery to notice what he was going through. She left him again when she died. It’s as if because the performer had to deal with the loss of her in that way and because he still needed her, it was twice as painful and stayed with him much longer.
No new and thrilling insights today, just random bits that I love:
That low laugh which you miss if you don’t have the volume turned up enough in PADAM, just before he sings ‘and it’s laughing at aaaaall of your pain”.
His voice in LITLE PAL…his expression is filled with bitter irony, but his voice seems filled with restrained tears. Has that sort of throaty, lump-is-building sound that fills the song with even more emotion than just his expression alone imparts.
You know I’ve read many of Michael’s critics who have accused him of anything from being wooden to over doing it. I have only this video to make my own judgment with and although this is not like traditional theater with dialogue and staging and plot requiring interaction with other characters, still when I watch it I think how on earth can one possibly come away from this thinking the man can’t act??? His acting in this blows me away every bit as much as his voice does and he is required to display such a range of emotion and make us feel what the character is feeling. It really is brilliant and I wished it could have reached a wider audience.
HOW COULD I LOSE YOU still makes me cry, many parts make me smile, and I seem physically incapable of watching some parts only once.
Marie, I watched it with your time frame in mind and this certainly could work. It could even solve a couple of problems for me which I hadn’t satisfactorily solved from myself
1. Why at the end of the DON’T LOOK AT ME intro when he sings “I’m so glad I came” does his expression not reflect actual pleasure?
2. In the NO BIZ LIKE SHOW BIZ line ‘still you wouldn’t trade it for a sack of gold…’ the lyric cries out for a smile which reflects an embracing of the life – instead there is an expression of reserve on his face.
These two inconsistencies between lyric and facial expression make sense if you figure he hasn’t actually found his way out of his darkness yet. Also, it may be that even though he has found his way to happiness, his grip on it is fragile…when he sings THIS IS WHAT IT IS there is finally peace on his face, but it is cautious, tentative.
I meant to be agreeing with you about agreeing with me about SAY A LITTLE PRAYER. I think it’s the way he just limply stands there at the beginning with those terribly sad eyes and gently begins the song as if he were quietly spending the last chance he had with her. “before you wake up, before you put on your makeup, I’ll say a little prayer for you”. Well, she’s not going to wake up and he realizes that as the song progresses until he eventually addresses her up in heaven instead of right before him. It’s so sad…
Love the laugh in PADAM – so sinister and bitter. I also like that little laugh that you catch after YES MY HEART when he just finished the song and he’s standing there grinning as everyone claps. He can’t help himself.
I have been thinking really hard about the timeframe and have personally reconciled it to be a journey that occurs in the performer’s head as he relives it. I don’t think there’s action occurring as he sings – it seems to me to be him recollecting that throughout and that’s why we get his intense emotional reaction with it. One of the stories I’ve conjured up is that he wants to share his story with us, the audience. One night he gets up on stage and does so through the only way he knows how: his songs. In the end, when the lights come up we see him connecting to the spectators as he scans their faces as much for his own reassurance as for his desire to reassure us that we aren’t alone either. “ You see” he wants to say, “I’ve lived through it and so can you.” Where the show ends is either where Mr. Performer is at this point in his life or where he chooses to end it with that ray of hope shinning through.
I like the concept that he has come to the stage thinking ‘don’t look at me’ and has gone through this retrospective perhaps in his own head while he was whistling. Perhaps the emotions in the last song – this feels good, this is right - is really the beginning of the show and a complete change in perspective.
I think that at the end of the day, this may be what Michael wanted. It would be a wonderful thing to have one’s work so discussed and considered. And there are such possibilities for discussion.
I love that!!! The idea of him actually going through the entire show in the first song…never in a million years would that have occurred to me. But…if that were the case, why wouldn’t they have started the show with the lights as they are in the end. And the tune he is whistling isn’t a HAPPY TUNE as he says it is…unless his happy tune is his overcoming the obstacles in life that he sings about……..
I am going to jump in here so this is either going to sound completely out of context or it will be a repeat or possibly late night ramblings. It does at least fit in with the last few messages.
I watched the beginning of the video earlier and it finally dawned on me that BLUE is even more of an introduction that I had realized. I’d always just seen the ‘songs are like tattoos’ line as a way of saying that songs can evoke memories – they get under your skin. WHERE OR WHEN introduces this idea and PADAM follows it up. This evening for the first time I saw BLUE as introducing the life and telling us that the way he lived his early adulthood is not the way to go:
You’ve go to keep
You can make it thru these waves
Acid, booze, and ass
Needles, guns, and grass
Lots of laughs, lots of laughs
Everybody’s saying that hell’s the hippest way to go
Well I don’t think so
But I’m gonna take a look around it though
Blue, I love you.
He made it through those waves and had a look at hell.
It is actually rather a life-affirming song – the mood is so low key and some of the words are almost violent in a way – but I think it is the point from which he looks back at his life which ends with the hopeful conclusion of ALONE TOGETHER.
He starts off the nervous actor, but successful and getting over those nerves on stage, then considers songs that evoke memories before going back to his childhood. That beginning really echoes the second act – both acts start with the on-stage performance before the offstage reflection on his situation.
I see BLUE the way you do, as more a part of the story itself. My last impression of it was that it was rather like a little conversation he was having with himself to break out of the rut he was in, examine his life which has become hellish, and makes a concerted effort to go on. Don’t worry about covering covered ground…there is all kinds of repetition here, but it’s all good reading!
I still see the first half and the medley as the character’s retrospective look at his life. He is telling us his story and explaining how he got himself into the state we find him in. When the lights go back up for NICE DREAM, our hero is still in the jacket he was wearing for the medley, but it is now undone and along with the removal of the tie and the undoing of the shirt collar, this suggests to me that we are now back at the point DON’T LOOK AT ME ended.
The removal of the jacket for SOLITUDE is the character feeling completely alone, stripping himself of all the safety nets and defenses he has developed over the years to protect himself. He wants to feel some of the happiness again, he is ready to move on ‘I’m praying dear Lord above, send back my love.’ He takes his first step forward, the original jacket goes back on and we now watch in real time as the character tries to make sense of it all.
Seems like most everybody who has weighed in so far interprets the entire song cycle in ALONE TOGETHER to be The Performer and his life. I don’t see it that way because of the spoken interlude Michael inserted…the ‘I’ve been thinking what I want to share with you’ bit.
He says it’s ‘a journey though a life’ – not my life, but a life. “A life as complex, as varied, as intriguing as the words and music that surround it. I’m sure the paths that I’ll tread have been well worn by many others.” Isn’t that an odd thing to say if it was The Performer himself speaking?
To me, the story is framed by sections where we see Michael, not The Performer. The DON’T LOOK AT ME opening section seems to be referring to the Donmar show itself, the risk of trying something so different “do something new and they wait for you to fail…me standing here and you there assessing…”
BLUE and PADAM seem to be a gradual process of moving from storyteller to actually becoming the character of The Performer. The first place where I really feel like he is the character is at the end of PADAM where the words are ‘the song of my soul.’
And at the end, it seemed to me that The Performer leaves the stage after ALONE TOGETHER and he doesn’t come back – Michael comes back. To me THIS IS WHAT IT IS is the summing up song where Michael expresses for all of us what the journey we’ve just been on can teach us. As soon as that song is over he (Michael) immediately takes his bows and acknowledges Jason Carr. I think if he was still The Performer at that point, you would need another exit to break the illusion before Michael came back for his bows.
I’m not sure if I would feel the same way if that explanatory interlude wasn’t there at the beginning. But it is there and they had to choose where to put it. So it’s position has to be significant, I think, and gives a clue about the overall structure of the piece.
That’s an interesting take on it and certainly nothing that I’d ever considered before. I guess I just automatically assumed that Michael was playing a ‘part’ and that there wasn’t any direct connection between the two. It certainly makes a heap of sense, though, and I like the way you justify it.
One thing though, that does still say to me that he is the performer character entirely throughout is the way Michael discussed the show. In that interview between the two acts, he says that it’s the story of a performer and he talks about in a more or less detached way…I don’t know…I guess I’m just thinking he would have acknowledged his personal connection to the entire thing more fully if he had been using himself as the basis from which to build the journey.
The impression that I initially got about that added intro bit was that it was inserted to help the audience understand that there was some sort of journey/story going on and this wasn’t just some random collection of unconnected songs. I could be totally wrong or maybe that was just someone’s personal review and opinion of it that I’m remembering…I think his references to it being simply a life at that point as opposed to being my life were made to show the audience that this wasn’t necessarily Michael before us, but a generic performer figure and that he purposely wanted to separate the two. There’s something in the intensity of his emotions too that makes me think the person before us isn’t Michael taking on a character, but a full character in his own right. That short speech I took to be the performer telling us what he was about to show us and his general way of speaking was a reflection on the ALONE TOGETHER theme.
But now that you’ve pointed that out…it does make a lot of sense – especially considering the way the songs can be seen as a performer beginning to take on a character as he goes on stage. Thanks for sharing that new perspective Debbie.
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