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John McGlinn: Recreating Musical History

Conductor, arranger and musical historian John McGlinn frequently stripped classic musicals to their roots by returning to original orchestrations and reinstating lost songs. McGlinn died on Feb. 14; Fresh Air remembers him with interviews from 1989 and 1992.


Other segments from the episode on February 19, 2009

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, February 19, 2009: Interview with Danny McBride; Obituary for John McGlinn; Review of the film "Gomorrah."


Fresh Air
12:00-1:00 PM
Pitching For Laughs In 'Eastbound And Down'


This is Fresh Air. I'm Terry Gross. My guest is actor and writer Danny McBride. Last summer, he was in two hit films. In the comedy, "Pineapple Express," a hybrid of a stoner film and an action film, he played a drug dealer who was beaten and shot and shot and shot, but like a lot of characters in far-fetched action films, he just kept on going. In "Tropic Thunder," a comedy about actors making a jungle war movie, he played the pyrotechnics expert on the set. McBride co-wrote and starred in the comedy, "The Foot Fist Way," as the narcissistic head of a martial arts school for kids.

Now he's starring in the HBO comedy series, "Eastbound and Down," which premiered last Sunday. He plays Kenny Powers, a relief pitcher famous for his fastball and his big mouth. When he loses his fastball and becomes even more obnoxious, he finds himself exiled from the major leagues. He reluctantly takes a job as the substitute gym teacher in this old middle school. Here he is in front of his first class.

(Soundbite of HBO TV series "Eastbound and Down")

Mr. DANNY MCBRIDE (As Kenny Powers): What's up? I'm Kenny Powers. I'll be your new PE teacher till Coach Booth's back is fixed. Yeah, I'm famous, ladida, big (bleep) deal. Now at this time, I'd like to field any questions anybody has. This is the time to do it. You, big kid.

Unidentified Student #1: Do we have to run the mile?

Mr. MCBRIDE (As Kenny Powers): I'm talking about me. These are questions about me personally, as a superstar. You know, you got this moment in time here with an American icon, you're going to waste it asking the question about (bleep) mile? Next question.

Unidentified Student #2: Is it true you were in jail?

Mr. MCBRIDE (As Kenny Powers): No, babe, rehab.

Unidentified Student #3: Did you hurt yourself?

Mr. MCBRID (As Kenny Powers): No, I didn't hurt myself.

Unidentified Student #3: Because Coach Booth said after his back surgery he has to go to rehab.

Mr. MCBRIDE (As Kenny Powers): Oh, OK. Yeah, I hurt myself. I hurt my nose. All right, got time for one more. Timid kid.

Unidentified Student #4: My dad said you ruined baseball.

Mr. MCBRIDE (As Kenny Powers): You know what? I can already tell that I don't like you. And I'm probably not going to like you no matter how many pull-ups or push-ups you do. Anybody who wants to pick on anybody in class, aim for him because I ain't watching.

GROSS: Danny McBride, welcome to Fresh Air. Would you describe your character of Kenny Powers the way you see him?

Mr. MCBRIDE: Well, Kenny Powers is a mess, I think first and foremost. He is a burnt out major league pitcher who lost his fastball, and this show kind of picks up years after his fall from grace. He kind of has run of options and places to turn, so he finds himself on his brother's couch substitute teaching gym class at his former middle school back in the town he grew up in.

GROSS: So how did you and your collaborators come up with the idea for this series?

Mr. MCBRIDE: You know, we came up with it several years ago. Ben Best, who is one of the other creators of the show, he was living in Charlotte, North Carolina, and I, at the time, was substitute teaching in Virginia. I had lived in L.A. for a few years and hadn't really got to where I wanted to be, so I had moved back home with my parents and was subbing and bartending and trying to write.

And I was over at Ben's house one day in North Carolina visiting, and we were sitting in a baby pool in his backyard, if I recall, and drinking beers and trying to come up with good ideas for TV shows, something that we could make money and pull ourselves out of our current situation. And Kenny Powers was a character that kind of grew up in that baby pool there. And we kind of pocketed the idea for a while, and then we met Will Ferrell and Adam McKay after we did "The Foot Fist Way," and we pitched it to those guys and they dug it.

GROSS: So, you were a substitute teacher before you started working as an actor and screenwriter. Did you take any experiences from your days as a substitute teacher and put them into "Eastbound and Down"?

Mr. MCBRIDE: You know, that was one of, I think, the first ideas of where "Eastbound" came from. I remember I was subbing, and I had been living in L.A for a few years and really hadn't gotten anywhere, and I went back to substitute teaching. I think I was subbing like for a German class or something. I don't speak German or anything, and I can remember introducing myself to class on the first day, saying, you know, I'm Mr. McBride, and I started to find myself like justifying why I was there to these high school kids who couldn't care less.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MCBRIDE: You know, this is just a stop on the way for me. I don't really plan on doing this forever, and I think it was sort of arrogance, you know ,which is kind of inspired Kenny Powers. Like, you know, I didn't really mind subbing. I thought it was actually pretty cool and it gave me some good ideas for writing, but I was just thinking the whole time, God, if I didn't like doing this, this would be a horrible thing to have to come home and do after you have fallen from grace.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: The funny thing is, too, it's such an insult to the students to say, I don't really want to be here. This isn't really what I do. I should be doing something much better than this.

Mr. MCBRIDE: Than shaping your minds.

GROSS: Yeah, this is just like an unwanted stop along the way, being here with you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Because you get no respect at all as a substitute teacher.

Mr. MCBRIDE: None. All they care about is what kind of car you drive and, yeah, they don't care.

GROSS: Describe your look in the series and how you came up with it.

Mr. MCBRIDE: You know, Ben Best and Jody Hill, the other creators and I, you know, surprisingly enough, none of us really know that much about baseball. We always have been like music and film guys ever since we were little, and so, you know, a lot of what we've taken from the show in regards to baseball is just kind of what we've gleaned from headlines or from, you know, spotting baseball cards with just guys who, you know, just look insane.

And so, yeah, Kenny Powers, we kind of just got that look from these different players we had seen. He has a nice curly mullet. He has a pretty awesome handle-bar mustache, and the curly hair is all mine, but the mullet is not. It was an extension piece.

GROSS: Oh, good.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MCBRIDE: Yeah, I didn't have to wear that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Glad you're not stuck with a mullet.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So, when you were planning a film career, did you say to yourself, I think I'd like to play a jerk?

Mr. MCBRIDE: You know, that's what's so crazy is I never really had any ambitions in going into acting at all. I went to the North Carolina School of the Arts, the film school there, and I met David Gordon Green there and Jody Hill and Ben Best and these guys, and you know, I was there for directing and writing. And so my plan was always to kind of be behind the camera, and I only stepped in front of the camera just out of necessity. You know, David Green, he had an actor drop out of his film, "All The Real Girls," about a week before they started shooting, and I had written a lot with David, so he kind of got that I knew this character's sensibilities, and so he just trusted me and pulled me in to do this.

And from there, I think, you know, Jody Hill, who directed "The Foot Fist Way," he, you know, liked what I when did in that and then approached me about writing "The Foot Fist Way" with him and acting in that. And then from that, it's just all these other opportunities have come from there, so I just figured if it was a way - if me being in a movie added any value at all it would just be another method for us to get our own material out there.

GROSS: So how do you like acting?

Mr. MCBRIDE: It's not bad. I mean, you don't have to carry cables and move things around, which is cool. People give you stuff for free, like gum and meals, and I like that. But it's been great. I mean, I do like writing, and that's what I think was so fulfilling about this TV show is, you know, I like the acting and that's great, but the fact that it's like our story and it's something that we've written and produced and seen from page to screen, there is a real fulfillment in that.

GROSS: Now, Will Ferrell is one of the producers of "Eastbound and Down," and he is in the second episode of the series playing the owner of a local car dealership who pays you very little money to do a guest appearance and sign autographs to promote his cars. So how did you and he get to meet in the first place?

Mr. MCBRIDE: You know, Ben Best, Jody Hill and myself, we wrote "The Foot Fist Way," which has go into Sundance in 2006, and the movie didn't get domestic distribution after Sundance. It got international distribution, but we kind of left Sundance with our tail between our legs still looking for a home for our film. You know, nothing really had kind of come from it.

And then one day we just get a phone call that the movie happened to get into Will Ferrell's hands, which blew us away that, you know, we love that guy, that he would have watched our film and that he wanted to actually meet with us and talk about the film. So Jody and myself went to meet Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, and they talked about how much they dug the movie and told us how they were starting this new company, Gary Sanchez, and they wanted to have this be the first film that they released under their banner. So we were, you know, as you can imagine, just completely flipped out, and we just kind of struck a friendship with those guys after that as well because they're such a cool guys and I think we have a lot of the same sort of thoughts towards comedy, and we just got along really well. So you know, that's how a good friendship begin from that.

GROSS: If you're joining us, my guest is Danny McBride, and he's now starring in a series that he also co-writes on HBO called "Eastbound and Down."

I want to talk to you a little bit about a terrific movie you were in the summer of 2008, "Pineapple Express." In this film, you play a drug dealer who finds herself in the middle of a struggle between your suppliers and two of your customers. The customers are played by Seth Rogen and James Franco. And Seth Rogen has witnessed a murder that the drugs suppliers have something to do with, so they're trying to get him, and Seth Rogen and James Franco are trying to get them, and you're just trying to save yourself.

So in this one scene, Rogen and Franco come to your home to get information, and you all end up in this huge fistfight and throwing things at each other. Then they tie you up with duct tape to a chair and try to get some information out of you. Here's that scene.

(Soundbite of movie "Pineapple Express")

Mr. MCBRIDE: (As Red) OK. All right. OK, I'll talk. Ted Jones, he knows you witnessed the murder. He found your roach. He sent you guys over here, Budlofsky and Matheson, two real big (bleep) and they're basically out to kill you guys. Yeah, and they're gonna kill me too unless I turn you all over. So, you guys are basically (bleep).

Unidentified Man #2: Oh, my friend...

Unidentified Man #3: How many cops does he have on his payroll? Tell us.

Mr. MCBRIDE: (As Red) Well, there's the woman cop, Carol, and...

Unidentified Man #2: It's the lady cop.

Mr. MCBRIDE: (As Red) I don't know, he can have a bunch. I mean, this dude is like super well-connected and he has like a really awesome hideout, too. It's pretty bad ass.

Unidentified Man #2: Oh, (bleep).

Unidentified Man #3: What else?

Mr. MCBRIDE: (As Red) OK, he's at a war right now with the Asians. They're like in a drug war right now.

Unidentified Man #3: The Asians? What Asians? The Indians are technically Asian.

Unidentified Man #2: It's true.

Unidentified Man #3: What Asians?

Unidentified Man #1: I don't know, well, Chinese or Korean or...

Unidentified Man #2: (Unintelligible).

Unidentified Man #1: Yeah, a little just - little Asian people like the Asians with the guns and the drugs and not his friends.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: You're so funny in this film, and it's such - it's a really great film. But you know, as the movie goes on, things just keep getting worse and worse for you. At the end of this scene, the drug suppliers come in, and of course, you immediately tell them where Rogen and Franco are. And then the suppliers end up shooting you twice. And in each scene, you get more and more abused. And by any reasonable standard, you should be dead, but like in a lot of action films, you keep hanging on, and you decide to use the pain as a motivator.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: You strap on some guns and go looking for the bad guys. And I don't know, you didn't plan to be an actor, so you probably didn't study physical comedy. What was it like to do all these comedic fight scenes and probably not have any idea what you were doing?

Mr. MCBRIDE: It was actually great. You know, David Green directed that film, and he's a guy that, you know, like I said, had gone to film school, and so I had been working with him for a long time. And you know, when he sat us down about that fight scene in "Pineapple," he's like, you know, I don't want this to look like, you know, "Bourne Supremacy" where you guys are just like amazing fighters. This - the whole gag, what this needs to be, you guys lack the ability to knock each other out, and it should just be as sloppy as if this kind of fight really happened.

And so we really realized there was no way for this to really go wrong because I don't know how to knock somebody out anyway, so I don't have to pretend like I can't fight or anything. And so we - it took a week to shoot that fight scene, which was crazy. I mean, they walked us through the fight, I think, in about five minutes on the stage, and they were like, this is what we're shooting for the next week, so it was literally coming into work every day just getting the hell beat out of you.

And Franco busted that bong over the back of my head and actually split my head open, and Seth, I think, like broke his finger in that, and you know, we're going through doors. So there's a lot of bangs and bruises, you felt pretty sore at the end of the day, but it was a good way for us three to bond, Franco and Seth and me. We had a good time doing that, and we would never think about using stuntmen on that.

GROSS: At the end of the film, the characters you play - your character, Seth Rogen's and James Franco's - you're all like bromosexuals.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MCBRIDE: That's right.

GROSS: I mean, you're three guys who swear to be best friends and tell each other they love each other. And meanwhile, like, you're still wearing like your neck brace and it has big bloody handprint on it. Your clothes are soaked with blood because you've been shot like seven times. And did you grow up with that kind of buddy movie?

Mr. MCBRIDE: I did, you know. That was the one thing I really liked about "Pineapple." I felt like it kind of, you know, threw hommage(ph) to those sort of '80s buddy cop movies without like making fun of them. It just kind of became one of those films and, you know, I dug that. And that last scene, I thought was just a nice way to end that film. They didn't really have an ending for the movie, even when we went to shooting it. They had something down but it was nothing that they were ever planning on shooting.

And I guess about three weeks before we finished filming, Seth and Evan, the two screenwriters, they came up with this ending, and they're like, let's just have these guys sitting in a cafe at the end of the day, and it's as if they just had a wild night on the town, and let's just roll the cameras and you guys just talk about the film, and that's how they shot that. There was no real script or anything. They just set three cameras up and made us talk about the whole movie, and then they cut the scene together.

GROSS: That's great, and that probably adds this little bit of kind of awkwardness that you all feel professing your love for each other and your...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MCBRIDE: Exactly.

GROSS: Your buddiness.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Danny McBride, and he's now starring in the new HBO comedy series, "Eastbound and Down," and he also co-writes the series. He also was in "Tropic Thunder," "Pineapple Express," and starred in "The Foot Fist Way." Let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more. This is Fresh Air.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Danny McBride, and he's now starring in and co-writing the HBO series, "Eastbound and Down," and his movies include "Tropic Thunder," "Pineapple Express," and "The Foot Fist Way."

Let's talk a little bit about "Tropic Thunder," and "Tropic Thunder" is about actors making a jungle war movie on location, inspired by "Rambo" and all the other movies like it. And you play the special effects and pyrotechnics expert on the set, so you're the guy who does, like, you know, the dynamite blasts and the fire and the napalm. And I want to play a scene from the film. You're in the jungle talking with the grizzled war hero who's the military consultant for the film. He's played by Nick Nolte. And the movie that you're making is based on his memoir, "Tropic Thunder." Here's the clip.

(Soundbite of movie "Tropic Thunder")

Unidentified Actor #1: We're gonna light these boys up today, huh?

Unidentified Actor #2: Blow some sense into these young men.

Unidentified Actor #1: Yeah, I don't want to come off as weird or anything, but I might be your biggest fan. Yeah.

Unidentified Actor #2: Tropic Thunder, kind of like my "Catcher in the Rye." Yeah, I've never been in the military per se, but I have lost an appendage in the line of duty. "Driving Miss Daisy," first to-do gig.

Unidentified Actor #1: Yeah. It's pretty cool sonar(ph) you got there. What is it?

Unidentified Actor #3: I don't know what it's called. I just know the sound it makes when it takes a man's life.

Unidentified Actor #4: OK.

Unidentified Actor #5: Damien, we're go for explosion. Ready to kick the tires, light the fires, on your say so. Damien, we're go for explosion.

GROSS: I love the idea that you, the special effects man, lost a finger in "Driving Miss Daisy," which is...

Mr. MCBRIDE: Which was a special effects heavy film...

GROSS: Oh, that's such a slow-moving film about, you know, a driver and a woman that he drives.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So what did you learn about pyrotechnics playing a pyrotechnics expert?

Mr. MCBRIDE: I learned a lot. I got to shadow - I got to shadow the special effects guys, and I learned how to use a flamethrower, which was probably the highlight of my education there. And it was crazy. It was like going to movie star camp. You know, you're there on location in Hawaii, and those guys from like Nolte to Jack Black to Robert Downey Jr., everyone has such a different process, and you're sitting there just kind of taking it all in. It was really amazing.

GROSS: Well, speaking of process, Robert Downey Jr. in "Tropic Thunder" plays an actor - a white actor who's playing an African-American soldier. And because, you know, the character Downey plays is such like the method actor, he starts to convince himself that he is black, and he never gets out of character. So he acts black even when he's not on the set. And since Downey is such an eccentric actor to begin with, what was it like to work with him playing this parody of like the worst cliche of the method actor?

Mr. MCBRIDE: It was pretty amazing. I mean, we would be around Downey all day on the set, and I would just forget it was Downey, you know. At night time, we'd seen him for dinner, and I'm like, oh, yeah, I keep forgetting that Robert Downey Jr. is in this movie. That's him in the day time. But you know, one of the things I remember early on, it was like the second day of filming, I think, and in between takes, the sounds guys, you know, they'll usually cut off everybody's mics, but for some reason, I think they had left - by accident left Downey's mic on. And I had an earwig, and I could hear what he was saying. He was still mic-ed(ph) in between the take, and I can remember just like watching him, and I could, you know - I watched him kind of leave the set. And he's like walking back to the trailers, and I'm like, oh, it's crazy, leaving his mic on. I can hear him talking to himself. And he was just still in character going back to his trailer, talking about how he was going to go drain the lizard. And he was just still speaking in his voice from there.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MCBRIDE: It's like he's not dropping it at all. It was pretty impressive.

GROSS: That's really funny because he's like doing what his character does, which is like staying in character.

Mr. MCBRIDE: Exactly.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MCBRIDE: He doesn't drop character until the DVD commentary, he says.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: That's really so funny. But he's so terrific in it. So, were you ever afraid being around any of the fires and explosions in the movie?

Mr. MCBRIDE: The only one that was a little tricky was that first real big explosion in "Tropic." They had the rest of the crew like a mile away from the explosion, and I was the closest one to the explosion. They had me up in the tower with the camera guy and an AD. And they were like, you know, but you should be OK here even though we moved the rest of the crew a mile away from this explosion.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MCBRIDE: And they literally had a fire blanket up there. They're like, if you feel like, you know, really immense heat, just duck and put this blanket over yourself. And so I'm expecting like a fireball to come shooting into that tower, and then, of course, when it goes off, it wasn't anything too scary. I wish I had been a little closer, actually.

GROSS: Would you like to play a character who's not a jerk, a character who is like smart and refined and you know...

Mr. MCBRIDE: Absolutely not. No, of course, yeah. I mean, I think the - you know, with "The Foot Fist Way," I was playing a character that was - that was what he was. And I think, you know, when Hollywood kind of saw that, they kind of want you - they want more of that, you know. So that's kind of - I think that, you know, I landed a few roles that kind of were hitting that sort of beat, and you know, but I mean, the bottom line is I just like a good story and I like a cool character, and so with "Eastbound and Down," I think we really wanted to kind of play around more with some of the areas we were touching upon in "Foot Fist Way." So that's kind of why we went back there to that sort of character, but that's by no means were, you know, the only kind of characters I want to play. Just right now, we've been having a good time with that sort of character.

GROSS: The last year or so has been really big for you. You were in "Tropic Thunder" and "Pineapple Express" over the summer, and "Foot Fist Way" opened - when, like a year or so ago?


GROSS: And so, you've gone - and now you've got your TV series on HBO. So you've gone from, you know, pretty big obscurity to, you know, some degree of relatively sudden fame. So how is that affecting your life, and how is that affecting your thoughts on what it's like to be kind of famous?

Mr. MCBRIDE: I guess - you know what? I mean, I guess the main difference is I'm just not worried about how I'm going to pay for my car insurance or health insurance anymore. I mean, I'm still surrounding myself with all the guys that, you know, that I went to school with and we all hang out together. And so, you know, my personal life hasn't really changed that much since before all this began. I think I can just rest easier that I'm not bouncing checks right and left anymore.

GROSS: Were you bouncing checks?

Mr. MCBRIDE: I was always living in overdraft when I was in L.A. It was hard not to. I mean, I was just PA-ing(ph) or waiting tables, doing whatever I could do to kind of make ends meet.

GROSS: Right. Right. So, you mentioned now you can buy health insurance. So do you have like a group plan? I mean...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Because it's not like you have an employer per se?

Mr. MCBRIDE: You can get very good health insurance through SAG and the Writers Guild, so that's what I signed up for.

GROSS: Good. OK.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: All right.

Mr. MCBRIDE: You sound like my mom. She's very proud that I have health insurance. That's probably the thing she is the most proud about with everything. It's like, good, you have health insurance. If something happens to you, we're not going to lose our own.

GROSS: Well, Danny McBride, thanks so much for talking with us.

Mr. MCBRIDE: Cool. Thank you.

GROSS: Danny McBride stars in the new HBO series, "Eastbound and Down." The second episode premieres this Sunday. Later this year, he'll star in the movie adaptation of the TV series, "Land of the Lost." I'm Terry Gross, and this is Fresh Air.
Fresh Air
12:00-1:00 PM
John McGlinn: Recreating Musical History


This is Fresh Air. I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of orchestra music)

GROSS: I love musicals and was really grateful to conductor and musichistorian John McGlinn for restoring musicals, going back to the original scores so that he could include music and songs that had never been recorded before. We're listening to the overture from his recorded restoration of "Show Boat." He also recorded restorations of "Annie Get Your Gun," "Anything Goes," and an obscure Jerome Kern musical called "Sitting Pretty."

We were surprised and saddened to read his obituary today. He died Saturday at the age of 55 of an apparent heart attack. He joined us several times on Fresh Air. We're going to hear excerpts of two of his interviews. The first time we spoke was in 1989 after the release of his recorded restoration of the 1927 Jerome Kern-Oscar Hammerstein musical, "Show Boat." McGlinn explained why "Show Boat" is so important in theater history.

(Soundbite of interview)

Mr. JOHN MCGLINN (Conductor, Arranger, Musical Historian): Everybody thinks of "Oklahoma!" as the great watershed musical, the piece that, you know, finally integrated book and lyrics and music and dance and all of this. And in point of fact, many people, including myself, feel that "Show Boat" in 1927 was the work that really did that.

"Show Boat" addressed issues which for the time where absolutely unheard of in the musical theater. You simply did not address issues of racial hatred, racial intermarriage, alcoholism, desertion by a husband. Things like that were just not part of what people went to the theater to see when they went to see a Florenz Ziegfeld musical.

GROSS: How would you describe your overall vision in recording the complete "Show Boat"?

Mr. MCGLINN: It had always bothered me both as an artist and as a fan that "Show Boat" had come to be known as this sort of light, frothy operetta, and I had always suspected that there were much deeper elements to it. And the more I studied the piece and the more I was able to get back to the original material and I saw what the full original scope of their conception was, I mean, I realized that this was really something extraordinarily dark and brooding and out of the ordinary. And in the recording, I felt it was absolutely imperative to restore all of the grit and the drama of the piece.

I mean, there are several examples I can use, but the most important one and the one that's obviously caused the most discussion has been the restoration of the original language. I mean, the opening line of the show has always been a source of controversy. The curtain goes up on a levee in Mississippi. It's in the 1880s, and the stage is full with sweating black stevedores(ph) lugging cotton bales on their backs in the hot July sun. And the first words out of their mouth are, niggers all work on the Mississippi, niggers all work while the white men play.

And Hammerstein wrote that word deliberately. It wasn't just the word that everybody used then and used thoughtlessly. He wanted to pick the word that would make this complacent society audience sit up and take notice and think about what life was like for these people a hundred years ago in Mississippi.

GROSS: You know, a lot of us know "Old Man River" opening with the lyrics, colored folk work on the Mississippi, or, here we all work on the Mississippi. You restored it to the original, as you just described, but it caused quite a controversy within the cast that you were recording. A chorus of black singers who were supposed to sing it walked out. The baritone that was supposed to sing it walked out.


GROSS: Let's establish first why they wanted to walk out.

Mr. MCGLINN: Well, what happened was - it was very unfortunate because of scheduling and rehearsals, I was not able to be present at the first chorus rehearsal. What we had planned to do was to use the chorus from the Glyneborne(ph) Production of "Porgy and Bess" because I very much wanted to have a black chorus for the black music in "Show Boat." They got to the first rehearsal and they opened up their vocal scores, and of course, the first word they see staring them in the face was nigger. Now, they did not know the show. They didn't know the context. They didn't know what the dramatic purpose of the word was, and they just went, yipes, and they said, no way, uh huh, sorry, we can't do this.

(Soundbite of song "Cotton Blossom")

Unidentified Choir: (Singing) Niggers all work on de Mississippi
Niggers all work while de white folks play -
Loadin' up boats wid de bales of cotton,
Gittin' no rest till de Judgement Day.

Git yo'self a bran' new gal,
A lovin' baby who's de apple of yo' eye.
Coal black Rose or high brown Sal,
Dey all kin cook de sparrer grass an' chicken pie!

GROSS: There's an irony here, I think, and that is that you ended up having to use a white chorus to sing "Old Man River" because the black chorus didn't want to sing the original text. And this is part of your attempt to get the most authentic recording possible.

Mr. MCGLINN: Well, not only authentic but I would like to think the most socially conscious.

GROSS: Mm hmm.

Ms. MCGLINN: Anything that happened like that, whether it would be racial prejudice or genocide or anything, if we forget about it, it can happen again. And I think it's very dangerous to try to pretend that things like this never happened.

GROSS: In your recording of "Show Boat," you reinstated a very beautiful song, and I think this is the perfect example of the dark and brooding atmosphere that you found when you found the complete manuscript for "Show Boat." The song I'm thinking of is "Misery's Coming Around," and this is a song that foreshadows that tragic turn of events about to happen. It's very beautiful. Why was it deleted?

Mr. MCGLINN: First of all, at the first performance in Washington, the first preview out of town, the show ran over four hours, which was simply not feasible within the format, an economic market of a Broadway musical. So things had to go. And anything - I mean, the first casualties, of course, were anything that was not absolutely essential to the progression of the plot, and "Misery," as beautiful as it is, is six minutes of atmosphere and mood painting rather than something specific happens that moves the plot along. That's the practical aspect.

The other side of it is that Florenz Ziegfeld was terrified of it. And Ziegfeld absolutely was so afraid that it was going to kill the show stone cold, smack in the middle of the first act. And I can see him, you know, at rehearsal in my mind, you know, sitting there chewing on a cigar going, it's a downer, boys. It's a downer.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MCGLINN: But it's very interesting about "Misery" because its cutting is tragic because its themes are uses underscoring throughout the entire show. And you hear all these references to this dark, brooding theme without ever hearing its original statement and knowing what its context is.

Unidentified Choir: (Singing) Misery is coming around.
The misery is coming around.
I know it' coming around,
Don't know to whom
Misery is coming around.
The Misery is coming around.
We know it' coming around.
Don't know to who...

GROSS: Do you think that your recording is an example of a trend in reevaluating the place of the musical theater in American musical life?

Mr. MCGLINN: Boy, I sure hope so. I mean, so much of my career has been devoted to that, not just with "Show Boat" but with all the shows that I've work on. When these shows were being written, nobody thought of them as great art. There were commodities. They were designed to make the authors and the producers money, and that's really all anybody thought about it.

Now I'm convince that in, you know, late at night, in the dark recesses of their studies, the composers themselves did think of it as art. They knew they were creating beautiful music. But even so, they still treated it very much as a commodity. Orchestrations were not preserved. Manuscripts were not even preserved. If a song or a complete show wasn't a big hit, nobody felt that it was important to preserve it in case it were going to be reevaluated by posterity 50 years later.

What was the miracle that created people like Irving Berlin and Richard Rogers and Jerome Kern and Cole Porter and Athan Swartz? All at this one time, these incredible people, an artistry like that - quite apart from the style has changed - but just like that kind of artistry doesn't seemed to exist en masse today. People just didn't think that it was all going to end. So I think now, you know, people are realizing that we've lost something incredibly precious, and we'd better find it and reclaim it and preserve it as fast as we can.

GROSS: John McGlinn recorded in 1989 after the releas of his recorded restoration of "Show Boat." He died Saturday at the age of 55. Coming up, we'll hear the interview we recorded after the CD release of his restoration of "Annie Get Your Gun." This is Fresh Air.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: We're remembering conductor and theater music historian John McGlinn. He died Saturday at the age of 55 of an apparent heart attack.

(Soundbite of Broadway muscial "Annie Get Your Gun")

Mr. THOMAS HAMPSON: (As Frank Butler) Now little lady, if you step up to the parapet, I'll give a you lesson in marksmanship.

Ms. KIM CRISWEL: (As Annie Oakley) You couldn't give me a lesson in long distance spittin'!

(Soundbite of song "Anything You Can Do")

Ms. CRISWEL: (Singing) Anything you can do,
I can do better.
I can do anything
Better than you...

MR. HAMPSON (Singing) No, you can't.

Ms. CRISWEL: (Singing) Yes, I can.

MR. HAMPSON (Singing) No, you can't.

Ms. CRISWEL: (Singing) Yes, I can.

MR. HAMPSON (Singing) No, you can't.

Ms. CRISWEL: (Singing) Yes, I can.
Yes, I can.

MR. HAMPSON (Singing) Anything you can be
I can be greater.
Sooner or later,
I'm greater than you.

Ms. CRISWEL: (Singing) No, you're not.

MR. HAMPSON (Singing) Yes, I am.

Ms. CRISWEL: (Singing) No, you're not.

MR. HAMPSON (Singing) Yes, I am.

Ms. CRISWEL: (Singing) No, you're not.

MR. HAMPSON (Singing) Yes, I am. Yes, I am.

MR. HAMPSON (Singing) I can shoot a partridge
With a single cartridge.

Ms. CRISWEL: (Singing) I can get a sparrow
With a bow and arrow.

MR. HAMPSON (Singing) I can live on bread and cheese.

Ms. CRISWEL: (Singing) And only on that?

MR. HAMPSON (Singing) Yes.

Ms. CRISWEL: (Singing) So can a rat!

MR. HAMPSON (Singing) Any note you can reach
I can go higher.

Ms. CRISWEL: (Singing) I can sing anything
Higher than you.

MR. HAMPSON (Singing) No, you can't.

Ms. CRISWEL: (Singing) Yes, I can.

MR. HAMPSON (Singing) No, you can't.

Ms. CRISWEL: (Singing) Yes, I can.

MR. HAMPSON (Singing) No, you can't.

Ms. CRISWEL: (Singing) Yes, I can.

GROSS: That's Kim Criswel as Annie Oakley and Thomas Hampson as Sharpshooter Frank Butler in John McGlinn's recorded restoration of "Annie Get Your Gun."

McGlinn's specialty was returning to the original scores of classic and obscure Broadway musicals, reinserting music passages and songs that had been deleted over the years and had never been recorded. My second interview with him was recorded in 19992 after the release of his recorded restoration of "Annie Get Your Gun." He told me why he restored the score of this popular show.

Mr. MCGLINN: "Annie Get Your Gun," I should explain, exists in two entirely separate and discrete versions. There's the original show that opened in 1946 at the Imperial Theater in New York City, and there was a very famous revival supervised by Irving Berlin in 1966 at Lincoln Center. That production also stared Ethel Merman and was recorded by RCA Victor.

And for that production, the original orchestrations were thrown out. New orchestrations were done by Robert Russell Bennett. And some of the score was dropped, the new song was added, the book was shortened to - subsidiary characters were eliminated entirely. And that version, what I would call the Lincoln Center version, is the one that is, in fact, the only version that is currently available for rental and performance. And so I realized there was a real palpable need, a real reason to go back and record the original 1946 version.

GROSS: You were talking about the 1966 version and how that's been the only one available in terms of the score. Let me play the overture, the opening of the overture from the 1966 version and compare that to the restored version that you've done. And I think our listeners will hear that the 1966 version is very heavy on strings and harps, whereas yours is crisper and there's more horns in it.

Mr. MCGLINN: Well, you know what there is in the original that there isn't in the '66 version is five saxophones.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. MCGLINN: The saxophones were completely eliminated from the '66 version.

GROSS: And were replaced by violins, probably.

Mr. MCGLINN: No, and more brass.

GROSS: I'm going to start with the 1966 and then I'll go to your new restoration.

(Soundbite of orchestra music)

GROSS: So how would you compare this tune?

Mr. MCGLINN: Well, first of all, let me say that I don't want to be seen in any way to be knocking the 1966 version. It's worth remembering, first of all, Irvin Berlin supervised the '66 version, and it was orchestrated by Robert Russell Bennett, who had done a large portion of the orchestrations of the original production.

It was reorchestrated for one definite reason and a second reason that I suspect, which I didn't realize until last year. First of all, this production was designed for the New York State Theater, and that is a big house. And I think they felt that orchestrations were needed that would be louder, heavier, punchier and more in the style of the 1960s. Broadway orchestrations, even though they were very peppy in the '40s, tended to be more delicate. By the '60s, we were into the age of amplification, and it was a huge hall that needed a great deal of sound to fill it.

That, I think, is partly the reason. Also, I think it was felt that the sound of the saxophones and that whole 1940s sound would sound dated to '60s mentality.

GROSS: What's interesting is that it's the 1966 version that I think really sounds dated.

Mr. MCGLINN: Now, it does because you know what it is? It's very interesting. I found this applies to so many of these shows that people go back and doctor. It's what I call malice of hindsight.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MCGLINN: And when something is created new, you're simply creating it. You're doing what is in your heart, what is all around you musically and culturally. You are going with the flow of what you're in the middle of living in. You're not consciously second-guessing yourself. When you go back 20 years later - they did this with "Show Boat," as well - and you try to do new arrangements which are not so much in the style of the 1940s as in what they think people think the style of the '40s was, it never sounds right. It always sounds slightly air-sought(ph), slightly artificial.

GROSS: Do you sing anymore? I mean, you have a small credit on the "Annie, Get Your Gun" recording. You're on at the reprise of "There's No Business Like Show Business." I'm not sure if you're just speaking a line there or if you're actually singing.

Mr. MCGLINN: I sing at rehearsal. I sing when someone's missing. I have, I say modestly, a very pretty, little teeny-weeny tiny tenor voice, but it was much too small to do anything with operatically, which is what I wanted to do. And I stopped singing for a very practical reason, which is that it terrified me so that, I mean, I would shake and I would vomit. And oh, it was just horrible, and I thought this is no life for an adult human being.

I'm terribly glad that I went through that. I studied voice for eight years. I took three lessons a week, and I performed in college and all of that. I know what kind of hell singers go through when they perform. And that's terribly useful to me as a conductor. I can hear before it happens when a singer is about to run out of breath. I can hear coming out of the throat when the singer needs just that little bit of extra room to get over the register break for a high note. And I think it's one of the reason singers like working with me so much is that unlike some conductors, I'm extremely sympathetic to the physical demands of what a singer has to endure in order to produce the sounds they do.

GROSS: Now, I have to ask you about "There's No Business Like Show Business," which is, you know, the anthem from the show. Did you go into this still loving that song or was the song really tired for you and did you have to work to make it fresh?

Mr. MCGLINN: No. It wasn't tired for me at all because you see, I have a trick. Whenever I feel something is getting tired for me, I avoid it like the plague and I go away from it. And in that way, it stays fresh. I mean, I haven't spent all of my life doing "There's No Business Like Show Business," so it isn't old for me.

GROSS: Mm hmm.

Mr. MCGLINN: Now, sure, you hear it all the time. You hear it sung at the end of every Tony Award ceremony, all that kind of stuff, and it's become so much, you know, a part of our bloodstream that you don't think of it. But when you're doing it in the context of the play and you're using the theater orchestration, you're suddenly - instead just everybody sort of getting up and singing a song they half know - you're dealing with a song that suddenly has a very specific emotional and theatrical point, which is they are trying to persuade Annie to leave home, to leave Darke County, Ohio and come with them, join the circus, join the Wild West Show, and she is very unsure. So they use this song to get her excited about going into show business.

So the situation was unique and fresh and how a dramatic need - there was a reason the song needed to be sung. And when you're working under those kinds of circumstances, something can't get old.

GROSS: Well, John McGlinn, I want to thank you a lot for talking with us.

Mr. MCGLINN: Well, my pleasure. Thank you.

(Soundbite of song "There's no Business Like Show Business")

Unidentified Chorus: (Singing) There's no business like show business
Like no business I know
Everything about it is appealing
Everything the traffic will allow
Know when, when you get that happy feeling
When you are stealing that extra bow
There's no people like show people
They smile when they are low
Yesterday they told you, you would not go far
That night you opened and there you are
Next day on your dressing room they've hung a star
Let's go on with the show
The costumes, the...

GROSS: Our interview with conductor and music theater historian John McGlinn was recorded in 1992 after the CD release of his restoration of "Annie Get Your Gun." McGlinn died Saturday at the age of 55. He also conducted and recorded restored versions of "Show Boat," "Anything Goes," "Kiss Me, Kate," the Jerome Kern musical, "Sitting Pretty," as well as overtures and songs by Kern, Gershwin and Rodgers and Hart.

Coming up, John Powers reviews an epic crime film from Italy. This is Fresh Air.
Fresh Air
12:00-1:00 PM
The Gritty Gangsters Of 'Gomorrah'

There's a new film just out in the theaters about organized crime in Italy. It's called "Gomorrah," and since it premiered at Cannes in May where it won the Grand Jury Prize, it's received enormous international acclaim, sweeping best picture, best director, best screenplay, best actor and best cinematography honors at the European Film Awards, the continent's version of the Oscars.

Our critic at large John Power's admires the film and says that it made him think hard about the different ways that movies portray gangsters.

Mr. JOHN POWERS (Film Critic, Vogue): Ever since prohibition, American movies have been in love with organized crime. Our pop culture not only finds gangsters is colorful and supremely quotable, bada bing, but it often flatters their thuggishness by endowing it with tragic grandeur. "The Godfather" made our life seemed honorable," said Sammy "the Bull" Gravano, adding that Francis Coppola's movie inspired him to kill even more people.

Of course, Americans can mythologize Don Corleone or Tony Soprano because for most of us, their activities feel safely distant. They exist as stories rather than living presences. But things are different in Italy, where everyone feels the reach of the mafia whose power touches everything from their trash pickups to the highest offices in the land.
Because of such proximity, the best Italian stories about the mafia - for instance, Leonardo Sciascia's brilliant novels about Sicily - are resolutely unromantic. They never get all sentimental about family.
Nowhere is this clearer than in the new Italian movie, "Gomorrah." Directed by Matteo Garrone, this crime epic takes us into the world of the Camorra, a syndicate based in and around Naples that despite being little known here is actually bigger than Sicily's Cosa Nostra.

Watching the Camorra in action, we see how organized crime can become every bit as crushing as a totalitarian government. Beginning with several murders, for the whole system runs on bloodshed, Garrone's film interweaves several stories. We follow a frightened a mob bagman, a 13-year-old kid who joins the Camorra, and a tailor who's teaching illegal Chinese workers the tricks of high-fashion couture.

The deadliest character is the most respectable, a sleek, silver-haired fixer who arranges for businesses to dump toxic wastes in fields where it poisons those living in the communities nearby. As we follow the action, we start to grasp the globalizing power of the Camorra, which deals in everything from traffick humans to the designer clothes the movie shows' Hollywood actresses wearing on the Red Carpet. More important, we get a harrowing sense of what it means to live under mob control.

The Camorra poisons everything it touches, and in parts of southern Italy, it touches everything. Shot on location, the world of "Gomorrah" is one of pervasive corruption, violence and fear, a world of harsh landscapes and dire housing projects that seem less a physical geography than a moral hell.

"Gomorrah" is based on a powerful book by an ambitious, young Neapolitan journalist named Roberto Saviano who saw his own father badly beaten because he called an ambulance for one of the mob's victims. Fueled by righteous anger, Saviano did undercover reporting on the docks at an illegal textile factory, and he even waited tables at Camorra weddings. The result was a passionate, highly personal expose whose visibility annoyed the mob's bosses, who are evidently not avuncular old fellows like Marlon Brando. These dons issued their version of a fatwa back in 2006, and three years later, Saviano, just 29 years old, is still living a life of bodyguards, armored cars and safe houses.

While Saviano's book burns hot, he's implicitly his story's crusading hero. Garrone's approach is cool, detached and almost anthropological. He knows that in a movie, Saviano's feverish style would make "Gomorrah" exciting in the wrong way, turn it into operatic melodrama or pulp fiction.

Featuring no heroes, Garrone's movie is pointedly anti-mythological, never more so than in its treatment of murder. "Gomorrah" is actually far less violent than "The Godfather" or "Goodfellas," but it seems more brutal for Garrone offers no cinematically cool deaths and nobody softens the blow with catchy lines about killing not being personal, only business.

Highly conscious of how it portrays the mafia, Garone's film serves as a useful antidote for those of us who watch and love movies that transform murderers into mythic figures. One of its storylines follows two dumb punks, Marco and Ciro, who quote lines from "Scarface." The two run giddily wild, in hopes of living large, just like Al Pacino's Tony Montana.

I won't spoil the things by saying what happens, but their story underscores one big difference between Garrone's movie and Hollywood gangster pics. Marco and Ciro watched "Scarface" and wanted to be him. Nobody who sees "Gomorrah" would ever want to be Marco or Ciro.

GROSS: John Powers is film critic for Vogue. You can download podcasts of our show on our Web site,
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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