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How Will Elvis Costello/Burt Bacharach/Chuck Lorre’s Painted From Memory Fare on Broadway?

How Will Elvis Costello/Burt Bacharach/Chuck Lorre's Painted From Memory Fare on Broadway?

Elvis Costello’s fans got some exciting news recently.

The Associated Press has reported that sit-com king Chuck Lorre wants to make a Broadway production out of the brilliant 1998 album Painted From Memory by Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach.

Lorre chose shrewdly. Painted From Memory offers a rich story. It s one of my three favorite Costello albums (right up there with two of the early hard-rocking ones, This Year’s Model and Get Happy!!). Painted From Memory is a collection of 12 jazzy-pop ballads, all sung wonderfully by Costello and co-written by Costello and Bacharach, about a broken-hearted man who knows he must somehow summon the strength and purpose to go on after a devastating romantic break-up.

Many of the evocative song titles themselves give away the story: In the Darkest Place, I Still Have That Other Girl (in my head), This House Is Empty Now and God Give Me Strength.

How will it fare on the Great White Way? Broadway can be a snobbish, clubbish scene, where stars from other entertainment corridors get diminished by the critics, who probably resent their appearances on Broadway in the first place. 

For instance, Lucky Guy, starring the ever-popular two-time Best Oscar winner Tom Hanks, received less than effusive praise this season. Still, the production has done well at the box office.

Would Costello & Co. have a hard time winning over critics and customers?

Painted From Memory would appear to have the goods to be a success, considering the creative firepower present here. Lorre created CBS’ runaway hit sit-coms Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory. Bacharach is a genuine pop-music icon, with a boatload of hit songs to his name. Costello has been making great music of all kinds since 1977. He also has shown the versatility to host a weekly musical talk show and even once pinch-hit for an ailing David Letterman as the host of the late-night show on CBS.

I should know. I first saw Costello and his first band, The Attractions, rock the Riviera Theater in Chicago on Dec. 2, 1977, on his initial U.S. tour. It took place a few weeks after I first heard his remarkable debut album My Aim Is True. 

Maybe I’m not objective here. I have seen Costello perform about 80 times on stage since that night in Chicago. The man is a total crowd-pleaser, whether he goes on as a soloist or has a band (The Imposters, since 2002) or (my preference) features only his excellent keyboard maestro Steve Nieve accompanying him. 

He knows how to make a crowd happy. I last saw Costello and the Imposters open for The Who last February in Manhattan. It was as if they let Elvis out of a cage for 45 minutes — he was on fire. By comparison, The Who delivered a perfectly acceptable but emotionless set.

But a rock and roll concert isn’t a Broadway stage — although Costello did, it must be pointed out, perform at the Broadway Theater for five shows in late October 1986, with two separate backing bands. He memorably did a show on Oct. 24, 1986 in which many of his best known song titles were printed on a colorful wheel, and he invited audience members to spin the wheel and see which song he and the Attractions would play. 

It was a great night. The audience members loved it (I was one of them).

The Broadway scene has appeared to lack excitement lately. The aftermath of Hurricane Sandy has hurt attendance figures. Audiences don’t seem inspired much by the current offerings. The nation’s economic woes have made it tough, too, for Broadway to appeal to large numbers of people, what with those gargantuan ticket prices.

The question will be whether all of the star power of Costello, Bacharach and Lorre can translate into success at the box office and acceptance by those snobby critics.

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Talented and brilliant men. And Chuck Lorre.


Costello is, at best, tolerable as a lyricist. He is not able to simplify a line while getting at something deeper. Hal David accomplished this with admirable consistency. Bacharach's lyricist, after David, have been either weak or embarrassingly weak–and I include Carole Bayer Sager in this group. Costello, at least, can write well enough. As for his vocal interpretation, well, I am not fond of the affected emotion and the blue-collar tone. He is also not, in the least, telegenic. So–he is the wrong choice as vocalist for this play–assuming it ever gets off the ground. And, as for Chuck Lorre, his work is infantile. He is capably of harvesting a laugh, here and there, but his writing skills are unremarkable in every way. The only steady hand here is Bacharach. His songwriting talents, including touching, intervalic melodies, unpredictable syncopation and unanticipated shifts in meter, and clever and playful counterpoint and arranging are unequalled. I can understand his desire to return to a succssful album. but I cannot appreciate his desire to work with Lorre. He may feel more affection for Costello's work and voice than I do. But, if so, I wish it were not the case.

Harold Lepidus

Broadway appears to be taking some (successful) chances lately. I caught both SPAMALOT (in New York) and THE BOOK OF MORMON (in Boston)- Both great, and unconventional. The new Cyndi Lauper musical, KINKY BOOTS, has received positive reviews as well, I understand. Of course, a Burt & Elvis play would succeed or fail based on whether or not it was a well written/performed play or not. One can only hope. Let's not rush it.

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