Book Review: “Hello, Gorgeous” by William J. Mann

Hello, Gorgeous by William J. Mann is the story of Barbra Streisand’s triumphant rise to show business power. During the ultra-conventional 50s, in a world of Doris Day and Dinah Shore, Streisand was an odd-ball Jewess who refused to “fix” herself to conform. She sang in clubs and on TV, facing the viewers with crossed eyes and a beak nose. Her voice was harsh, edgy and rarely sweet, but it was hers, and it held an audience entranced. By 1964, Streisand had been on the covers of Life and Time. She had sung on TV with Judy Garland. She was the queen of Columbia Records and a hit on Broadway with “Funny Girl.”

Many books have been written about Streisand. Now Mann, the author of Kate: The Woman Who Was Hepburn and How to Be a Movie Star: Elizabeth Taylor in Hollywood has turned a sharp eye on Streisand’s early years. The book starts in 1960, with her as an aspiring actress, and ends with the debut of Funny Girl. The title of the book is her opening line in the show: “Hello, gorgeous,” spoken to a mirror.

Little in Mann’s five-hundred page doorstop of a volume is original. But he has written a biography that is detailed and mostly fair, if a touch too sympathetic to his subject. Streisand’s early years were tragic: Her kindly father died when she was a baby. Her mother was distant and unavailable. Her stepfather was cruel.

Mann is best at evoking the environment of Streisand’s New York in the early sixties. Personalities like producer Ray Stark and the up and coming actor Elliott Gould, who Streisand married in 1963 are colorfully and alive. Mann sometimes strains to retell the old tales and often employs purple prose to set the scene and the mood of his heroine.

When discussing Streisand’s art, Mann gushes and flatters more than evaluates. He calls her voice “exquisite”, which it is not.  Mann writes that the sheer power of her voice could induce shivers. Presumably any readers of “Hello, Gorgeous” will already have a good idea of her voice and its aspects. So these descriptions are hardly useful or enlightening.

However, even success did not make Strei­sand happy. In fact, success just fed her growing ego, making her even more paranoid and hyper-sensitive ­to any criticism. Mann goes to great lengths to explain why this was and to try and make the reader understand as well. Many of Striesand’s old friends and mentors had trouble sympathizing with the new Barbra. She became determined to seem to be self-created and so she had eradicated most of them from her CV and her life. She came to intimidate and control everyone near her. The last three chapters are full of items like this: “If she didn’t like ‘the color of the rug . . . she’d become ‘affected,’ and so the color had to be changed.” Hiding behind the title of “perfectionist”, she became a horror to work with or for; and a harridan to be near.

Over time, Barbra has come to deny the existence of the hardnosed young girl on-the-make from “Hello, Gorgeous.” She has become soi distant queen to her fans who happily shell out $650 a ticket to see her perform.

An Overview of the Major Characters in Cloud 9 by Caryl Churchill

“Cloud Nine” is a two-act play by British playwright Caryl Churchill, first performed at Dartington College of Arts in 1979. Act one of the play is set in Victorian times in a British colony in Africa. Act two is set in a London in 1979. Yet, unexplainably, only twenty-five years have passed for the characters.

Clive is the first act’s protagonist. He is, seemingly, the very model of a British aristocrat. He puts his duty to Queen and country first and assumes that those that rely on him will obey him. Clive accepts as true that gender-roles are well defined and expects his son, Edward, to be a man’s man, like him. Clive is an overt racist who believes the Africans are “savages” who can only be civilized by British discipline. Ironically, Clive has an affair with Mrs. Saunders, ignoring the infidelity that he imposes on his wife, Betty.

Betty is Clive’s wife and in the first act is played by a man. She spends almost the whole first act being confused and indecisive. She is totally reliant on Clive to provide her guidance and direction. Betty, however, has a sense of adventure. She thinks of a relationship with Harry, the explorer, and wonders about what another kind of life would be like. In Act Two, a new Betty, portrayed by another actor, has gotten a feeling of independence and has evolves into the play’s main protagonist. The second act Betty is older, gives long lectures and offers spontaneous comments.

Edward is Clive’s and Betty’s son. From a young age, he finds he is attracted to men and likes girly things. In Act One, this role is played by a woman. Edward keeps his true feelings hidden in fear of disturbing his conservative father. Over time those qualms fade, but do not vanish. In Act Two the older Edward, now played by a man, discovers that he is well adapted to the role of wife and mother, rather than husband and father. He prefers a steady relationship to sleeping around and often has a hard time getting what he wants.

Victoria is Clive’s and Betty’s daughter. In the first act, Victoria is played by a manikin. But in the second act she becomes a central figure. Victoria tends to depend on others but sometimes is strongly self-reliance. She is non-confrontational and prefers to be the peace-maker.

Harry Bagley is a British explorer and symbolizes the British ideals of courage and discovery. But his fame as an adventurer hides his sexual deviantcy. His presence begins to bring out the deep sexual yearnings of Clive’s family. Finally, Harry is a victim of own his action. He gives up his freedom to avoid persecution for homosexual acts.

Mrs. Saunders is a widow and is independent. She is fearless in wielding her sexuality, and she demands respect from men.

Lin is a brash and open lesbian. She is fearless in letting others know what she thinks. Beneath her bellicose exterior, Lin is unsure she is a good mother. She is openly crass and crude.

Play Analysis: “Hobsons Choice” by Harold Brighouse

The title of the play “Hobson’s Choice” comes from the phrase meaning a choice which is really no choice at all. Written by Harold Brighouse the play was first produced in 1916 on the stage. It was also adapted to the screen and TV at least three times. The play has also been turned into a ballet.

Plot Summary

Henry Hobson is a widower, who owns a prosperous shoemaking shop in Salton, a suburb of Manchester England. While Hobson drinks with his fellow Masons at a nearby pub, he forces his three daughters: Maggie, Alice and Vickey, to work at the shop for no pay. Also in Hobson’s employ is William Mossop, an exceptionally talented boot-maker, who is a bit simple-minded. Hobson treats Mossop badly and hardly pays him at all. In short, Hobson is a drunken and petty tyrant.

One day, a wealthy patron of the shop demands to know who made her shoes. Hobson admits it is Will Mossop. The customer, Mrs. Hepworth, is so impressed with the work that she demands all her and her daughter’s boots will now be made only by Mossop. Maggie the oldest and hardest working daughter, also the one least likely to marry, sees a chance, she marries Will and with a loan of 100 pounds from Mrs. Hepworth sets up a rival shop, depriving Hobson of much of his business.

After losing Maggie, Hobson decides to hold on to his other two daughters by not giving them dowries. Thru a series of missteps, usually drunken ones, Hobson is sued and forced to settle money on his two youngest daughters which allows them to marry.

Now alone, with his shop failing, Hobson drinks even more. In desperation he goes to each of his daughters to ask them to take care of him. In turn, each refuses. Finally Maggie agrees to take care of him, so long as he gives his business to her and Will Mossop and Hobson is only a silent partner.

Play analysis

Brighouse’s play has themes of choice and free will. There are also elements of family responsibility and what part good luck plays in peoples’ lives.

Henry Hobson’s situation is the result of his own poor choices in life. At any time during the play he could choose a different course of action and thereby repaired the relationship he has with his daughters. As with Shakespeare’s “King Lear”, perhaps Hobson is depending on mere family loyalty, rather than on making good choices for himself and his daughters.

The element of good luck is represented by Mrs. Hepworth and her loan to Maggie. Further, Hobson’s misadventures that force him to provide dowries for his other two girls are put down to good fortune as well.

“Hobson’s Choice” is ultimately a restatement of the line from “Julius Caesar”: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves. . .”

A Short History of her Majestys Theatre in London

Since 1705 with the opening of the first theatre on the site, there have been four different buildings and a variety on name changes for the theatre that is best known as “Her Majesty’s Theatre.”  Her Majesty’s Theatre is right in the middle of the London theatre district known as the West End, or Haymarket. This is London’s equivalent to New York’s Broadway theater district.

In 1705, the first theatre was built by John Vanbrugh and William Congreve on in the location  and was named “The Queen’s” with then Queen Anne’s permission.  Non-musical performances were outlawed except in two theatres with special licenses, so The Queen was soon converted to an Opera house, with “The Loves of Ergasto” as if first show.

In 1711 the composer George Handel of “Messiah” fame was employed as the house composer and conductor. Handel conducted many operas in the venue and established it as the premier opera house in London. On the accession of George the first to the throne the theatre was renamed “The King’s” in 1714. During Handel’s time as the house composer his oratorio “Esther” was first performed there in 1732.

The original building burnt down in 1789. Two years later in 1791 the new King’s Theatre opened. The venue continued show operas including the first Mozart opera, “La Clemenza De Tito”, performed in London in 1806.  From 1820 to 1820 the Paris Ballet was booked into the theatre, alternating performances with operas.

In 1837 the theatre was renamed “Her Majesty’s Theatre and Italian Opera House” in honor of the accession of Queen Victoria to the British throne. From 1837 to 1867 when the theatre was again destroyed by fire, it continued to show operas

In 1869 a new theatre was built but no performances took place in it until 1878 when the Bizet opera “Carmen” was performed. Operas as well as other types of entertainments were performed in the venue until 1890 when it closed its doors.

In 1892 the building was demolished the site vacant until 1896 when yet another theatre was built on the site. This new Her Majesty’s was a playhouse, showing non-musical performances such as Shakespeare.

In 1901 the name was changed again to His Majesty’s with the accession of Edward VII. Plays having performances in the theatre include George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion” and several Noel Coward musicals.

In 1952, the name reverted again to Her Majesty’s Theatre with the crowning of Queen Elizabeth II.

From 1953 to 1985, the theatre featured performances of plays and musicals such as “Paint Your Wagon”, “The Teahouse of the August Moon” and  “West Side Story

The musical version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’sThe Phantom of the Opera” opened in 1986 and has been continually performed there since.  From 1992 to 1994 the building underwent a complete renovation without missing a performance of the musical.

Since 2004, Her Majesty’s Theatre has been wholly owned Webber’s “The Really Useful Group Limited”. To this day Her Majesty’s Theatre continues to be one of the great entertainment venues in the London West End.