Musical Theatre Zen

Musical Theatre Zen is a term I use for those rare occasions that a musical number is so transportative and transcendent that the moment will forever burnish in my memory and bring myself and my soul to a place of extraordinary warmth, comfort and serenity. All is right with the world. I’ve felt it when I saw Barbara Cook sing “Ice Cream,” I felt it the first time I heard “Dividing Day” from The Light in the Piazza and on several other occasions. Here is one of those:

The Music: Jerome Kern
The Lyrics: Oscar Hammerstein II
The Orchestration: Robert Russell Bennett

The show was Very Warm For May, a flop musical comedy from 1939 that failed because Max Gordon disliked a farcical subplot involving a gangster chase sufficiently turning the musical into a summer stock affair similar to the smash hit Babes in Arms, which opened two years prior. Mixed reviews and audience indifference led to the show’s shuttering after 59 performances. Kern went to Hollywood, where he continued to work until his death. Hammerstein would eventually resurface in 1943 with Oklahoma! and Carmen Jones. In spite of its obscurity, the Kern-Hammerstein score was something special, as evidenced in the recordings of the original cast that have surfaced in recent years. The recording of the “song,” “All the Things You Are,” was featured on John McGlinn’s Broadway Showstoppers CD. In context, the song is presented as a double duet. One couple offstage is soliloquizing on the verse, alternating back and forth about their repressed feelings for the other (here voiced by Jeanne Lehman and Cris Groenandaal). At a certain point in the song, the couple onstage rehearsing are able to express what the lovers cannot (sung by Rebecca Luker and George Dvorsky) and supported by the ensemble. It’s my favorite song.

This is sheer poetry (aka, the chorus):

You are the promised kiss of springtime
That makes the lonely winter seem long.
You are the breathless hush of evening
That trembles on the brink of a lovely song.
You are the angel glow that lights a star,
The dearest things I know are what you are.
Some day my happy arms will hold you,
And some day I’ll know that moment divine,
When all the things you are, are mine!