I’m suffering big time tonight. It happens every spring like clockwork – even before you see the buds on the trees, I start to feel it. Pollen is a nightmare for me, which belies my incredible enjoyment of the warm spring weather. So as the love-hate relationship continues and since I don’t have HBO (hope Grey Gardens is a good one!), here’s the first ipod shuffle I’ve done in a while. As opposed to the last time when I merely used my Broadway playlist, I’ve gone ahead and hit the full ipod shuffle – so we’re up for any of the 32,537 tracks on here…
“I’m Not at All in Love” – The Pajama Game. The introductory song for the fiery union rep Babe Williams, on this particular studio album sung by Judy Kaye. The song pits her against her other female cohorts at the Sleep Tite Pajama Factory, where they subject her denial of a crush on the handsome new foreman with some interoffice teasing. Oh she says she’s not in love, but oh she sure as hell is. One of the more infectious character songs of the 50s and one of the more unexpected uses of a waltz in musical theatre.
“Something Wonderful” – The King and I. In many of the big Rodgers and Hammerstein shows there was a character, usually middle aged, who sang a song of inspiration to one or more of the protagonists at a cross-roads in the score. It started with “You’ll Never Walk Alone” in Carousel and finished with “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” in The Sound of Music. This particular song is sung by Lady Thiang to persuade Anna to visit with the King after a major fallout, leading to a tentative reconciliation and the amusing first act finale. Terry Saunders, a replacement Thiang in the original Broadway production, sings it on the original motion picture soundtrack.
“A Bell is No Bell” – The Sound of Music. Oscar Hammerstein wrote this specifically for Mary Martin. The intention was to create a full song out of it, but his failing health prevented that from happening and the verse was incorporated into a reprise of “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” in the second act. It’s a simple and sweet few measures. When the show was revived in London in 1981, changes made for the film were put onstage for the first time. In doing so, they took away “My Favorite Things” away from the Mother Abbess and Maria and to fill the void they used this piece in a minor duet.
“Rehearse! – finale” – 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The opening number is reprised at the end to emphasize the theatrical metaphor of the United States as a play in constant rehearsal. The song has a syncopated melody with that Leonard Bernstein, lyric by Alan Jay Lerner. There is an exuberance in the song that belies the weakness of the libretto surrounding it. By the time the show go into New York, the new creative team had stripped away most of the theatrical references. This bookend number plus one or two lines elsewhere through the score are the only allusions to the original concept (the show went into production unfinished and then premiered haphazardly in Philadelphia running four hours).
“The First Lady” – Mr. President. I guess between this and the last one, musicals about presidents don’t work out so well… Nanette Fabray sings a comic list song by Irving Berlin in which she grouses about the ardors of life as, you guessed it, the First Lady. It’s no “Duet for One,” but melody is tuneful and Fabray is game.
“Jeanette’s Showbiz Number” – The Full Monty. Kathleen Freeman was one of the great character actresses in film and television; an appearance by her would undoubtedly be followed by laughs. She made her Broadway musical debut as the salty, opinionated rehearsal pianist here, in a role created for the stage show. Freeman performed the show while dying of lung cancer, a fact unknown by most at the time. Her professionalism was incredible – her final performance in the show was only five days before her death. I’m looking forward to the prospect of seeing Elaine Stritch perform this song this spring.
“Don’t ‘Ah Ma’ Me” – The Rink. This fantastic duet between Chita Rivera and Liza Minnelli depicts the first meeting of a mother and daughter after a seven year estrangement. Chita as the Mother unleashes a rapid-fire barrage about her daughter and her shortcomings, while Liza tries to respond and rationalize. The comic timing is just spot-on.
“The Story Goes on On” – Baby. This stirring solo marks the act one finale of this Maltby-Shire musical that explores three couples and their three diverse experiences with pregnancy. Liz Callaway played Lizzie, the youngest woman of the couples and in a moment in front of her mirror has felt the baby kick for the first time. This emotional moment spurs the song, a song about her emotional feelings and of the greater chain of human life. I would venture a safe guess Callaway’s tour de force delivery of the number is what got her a Tony nomination in 1984.
“Civilized People” – Kean. Alfred Drake, Joan Weldon and Lee Venora are the singers of this amusing musical trio that conveys an awkward and decidedly restrained confrontation between Kean’s two love interests while he tries to calm both parties. The inevitable barbs are hurled back and forth between the two women before breaking into chaos. This show has a score strong enough to be a candidate for Encores (especially as its the only truly original Wright & Forrest Broadway score).
“He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” – Mahalia Jackson; Gospels, Spirituals and Hymns. Taking on the risk of the full i-pod shuffle it makes perfect sense that there would non-theatre related music in the mix. Ms. Jackson may be the greatest gospel singer the world has ever known and though I myself no longer consider myself religious, I always enjoy whenever she pops up on here.
“Overture” – Christine. It’s a sumptuous celebration of Sammy Fain’s music and Phil Lang’s work as an orchestrator that make this overture sound better than it should. Really, it sounds big enough to be underscoring for a motion picture epic about India, however the score that follows it is such a colossal disappointment it’s not even funny. The musical reads like an incestual rip-off of The King and I, with so much awkward in its depiction of Indian life, it’s no surprise the show lasted a whopping twelve performances (I’m sure the fact it didn’t close opening night was based on the above the title billing of the lovely Maureen O’Hara in her only Broadway credit).
I figure that’s enough shuffling for now… but while I’m thinking of it, are there any other cast albums you’ve listened to where you’ve heard a phenomenal overture that was betrayed by the score that followed?