September 26, 1998

Any actor can tell you that villains are often the most rewarding and challenging characters to play. We have to find some humanity in the character, or else they become flat, lifeless. A good actor can make you care, at some level. Broadway musicals occasionally give some of their best songs to the villain. Think of Music of the Night from Phantom (I'm finally coming around to like the song). Or think of Javert singing Stars, in Les Miserables . Or think even of one specific older musical where a conniving Peter Stuyvesant laughingly does everything he can to destroy a young couples' happiness. Despicable, we think to ourselves. Then he turns around and sings Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson's haunting September Song, and for a few minutes we melt. Knickerbocker Holiday opened in October of 1938. Much of its music was rather forgettable, but its lament to precious days slipping rapidly, achingly away, became a classic.

Let's shift focus now, return to 1938, and survey other events happening that September and October. Another musical opens on Broadway this Fall. Ole Olsen and Chic Johnson's Helzapoppin wows 'em with an over-the-top gusher of sight gags and slapstick, into the midst of which composer Sammy Fain and wordsmiths Irving Kahal and Charles Tobias toss the wistful I'll Be Seeing You . Another classic has arrived.

Audiences need diversion now, especially those with ties to Europe. Germans living in Czechoslovakia's Sudetenland province hold a mass rally, demanding reunification with Germany. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain flies off to Berlin to meet with Adolph Hitler. He returns shortly, smugly pleased to have tossed Czechoslovakia to the wolves. On September 26th Hitler publicly boasts he will reclaim the Sudetenland by October 1st. And a month after 25,000 people demonstrate their solidarity with Czechoslovakia in a rally at Madison Square Garden, a Gallup poll shows that the majority of citizens in the U. S. approve of the agreement forged in Munich. Hitler is only two days late fulfilling his promise, invading the Sudetenland, then the rest of Czechoslovakia on October 3rd. By month's end Germany is deporting Jews to Poland. And while Hitler sets off on his path of destruction and terror, Asia is not exempt from the upheaval of conquest. By October's end, Japan occupies the Chinese cities of Canton, Hankow and Wuhan.

Amidst this poisonous atmosphere of creeping dread, thousands around the U. S. are diverted from the headlines, as they turn on their radios and learn of one more monstrous invasion. The new conquerors come from another planet, and for one memorable Hallowe'en night, compliments of producer Orson Welles, real villains are forgotten.


For Classical ninety-one five, this is David Minor.


© 1998 David Minor /Eagles Byte