Will Encores! ever do Wildcat? The 1960 musical is most famous for bringing Lucille Ball to Broadway, but it should also be remembered for its marvelous score.
This was the initial collaboration for composer Cy Coleman and lyricist Carolyn Leigh – and the first time that each had a show in which every song was theirs.
Coleman had previously provided incidental music for a play and had composed a song for one Broadway revue as well as for an out-of-town closer: Ziegfeld Follies of 1956 – not to be confused with Ziegfeld Follies of 1957, in which Leigh had a song.
That came twenty-nine months after she’d made her Broadway debut with Peter Pan. It was a bittersweet experience, for during the tryout her work with Moose Charlap was buttressed with songs by Jule Styne, Betty Comden and Adolph Green.
Despite Wildcat’s worth, Encores! at this point is only committing to its opening number: “Hey, Look Me Over!” That’s the title of a revue that will run Feb. 7-11, 2018. It’s described as “a cavalcade of overtures, opening numbers, grand finales, and other excerpts from beloved shows that Encores! hasn’t gotten to – yet.”
May I make some suggestions? All are all based on Encores! original mission to stage musicals that wouldn’t otherwise be produced.
Overtures? Goldilocks has one of the best. Leroy Anderson joyous music is terrifically orchestrated by the composer himself and Philip J. Lang. And don’t underestimate the Romany excitement of Bajour, which was orchestrated by – and here’s a surprise – Mort Lindsey, most famous for serving as Judy Garland’s musical director.
A nice entr’acte for the show would be Flora, the Red Menace‘s – for the “overture” on the cast album actually was the show’s entr’acte. That’s why it sounds so much more, shall-we-say, informal than the usual stately overture.
Following the entr’acte should be “Intermission Talk,” which opens the second act of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Me and Juliet. It’s set in a theater’s lounge where cynical playgoers assess the show they’re in the midst of seeing.
“The theatre is dying, the theatre is dying, the theatre is practically dead,” they lament, offering they-don’t-write-them-like-they-used-to complaints. Hammerstein’s sentiments are as relevant to today’s theatrical curmudgeons as they were in 1953.
Opening numbers? “Hey, Look Me Over!” which gave Wildcat a sensational start, will probably open this Encores! revue. But my choice would be “The Theatre Is a Lady” (Two’s Company). The jaunty Vernon Duke melody is show music at its best.
Not all opening numbers are barn-burners. Richard Rodgers’ last great waltz – “No Song More Pleasing” (Rex) – is a lovely introduction to the show, as is the title waltz that begins The Happy Time. Additional quiet charms can be found in “Penny Plain, Twopence Colored” (Kean), which shows us that theatrical souvenirs were hawked in the early 19th century, too.
“Melt Us” (All American), set to a jaunty Charles Strouse rag, has a good deal of positive things to say about immigration – and wouldn’t be the only musical that Strouse wrote about people coming to our shores. In Rags, “Blame It on the Summer Night” is sung by a recent immigrant who can’t find her husband but may be finding love with someone else. It would be a wonderful addition to Hey, Look Me Over’s! section of Broadway ballads.
There will be one, won’t there? It should include “The Next Best Thing to Love” (A Class Act), which celebrates the deepest friendships we have – so deep, in fact, that over time our feelings do morph into genuine love.
The current Broadway revue Prince of Broadway has an overture that offers a few bars of “A Quiet Thing” (Flora, the Red Menace) – but too few. Kander and Ebb’s first great song deserves more.
“His Own Little Island” (Let It Ride!) is the most poignant ballad you don’t know – and should. It could be positioned just before the ballads sequence concludes with “Before I Kiss the World Goodbye,” which Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz had originally written it for Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris – Paul Gallico’s story of a British charwoman whose dream is to sail to The City of Light and buy a dress of the hautest couture. The team eventually abandoned the show, but put the song in their next musical: Jennie, where Mary Martin tenderly sang it.
How about a medley of waltzes? Start with “Let’s See What Happens” (Darling of the Day), which was one of Jule Styne’s favorite compositions. Continue with “Walk Away” (How Now, Dow Jones) with Carolyn Leigh lyrics set to a haunting Elmer Bernstein melody. Conclude with the dazzling, almost out-of-control “I Don’t Want to Know” from Dear World.
Another waltz – which was set in that tempo to indicate contentment – is “It’s an Art” (Working), my favorite Stephen Schwartz song. It deals with a waitress who absolutely l-o-v-e-s her job. Hard to believe? Listen and she’ll convince you. Along the way, you’ll get some terrific triple rhymes: “Though the chef may be deaf, I stay diplomatic; if I give him static, he might burn the haddock.”
“London is a Little Bit of All Right” is the umbrella title for the multi-minute medley in The Girl Who Came to Supper that won Tessie O’Shea a Best Featured Actress in a Musical Tony. That was quite a feat, for no woman had ever copped that prize for appearing in a show that had run so short a time: 112 performances.
“If the Rain’s Got to Fall” is the Half a Sixpence production number in which a chorus boy accidentally-on-purpose dropped his boater hat so Tommy Steele could then dazzle us (as if he hadn’t already!) by picking it up and Frisbeeing it over to him. So if Encores! does this one, will it replicate that stunt?
The recent London revisal didn’t, and I’ve never heard if Steele pulled the trick in the original London production. There the song had one different word: Broadway heard Steele sing of the discomfort of sitting in the rain under a leaky umbrella “sipping a sarsaparilla” – but in London the verb was the far less elegant “sucking a sarsaparilla.”
Charm songs? Maggie Flynn, the title character of her musical, makes us fall in love with her in “I Wouldn’t Have It Any Other Way.” “I Could Get Married Today” features a seventeen-year old (which is why the show is called Seventeen) learning that his family’s handyman was married at that age. That gets him musing on what his life would be if he’d tied the knot right now. “Why Can’t We All Be Nice?” (Goodtime Charley) has Joel Grey, courtesy of Hal Hackady’s on-target lyric, ask this very good question. If only one or the other had come up with an answer!
Comedy songs? “The Good Time Girl” from Over Here! has a purposely obfuscating title, for if the logical one were printed in the program, it would give away the very good joke that The Sherman Brothers gave it. And it’d be fun to hear “New York” from The Nervous Set. The show opened in 1959 and made the complaint that too many songs had already been written about New York. Who knew that the best one of all was still eighteen years away?
Grand Finales? The delicious title song from My Favorite Year is one of Ahrens and Flaherty’s best in their long history of great songs. “Step to the Rear,” although a first-act number in How Now, Dow Jones, was reprised to end the show with some punch, so it qualifies in this category. “Sweet Beginning” (The Roar of the Greasepaint – the Smell of the Crowd) is one of the most beautiful songs that Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse ever wrote. And despite these controversial political times, Encores! could remind us, as Irving Berlin did in Mr. President, that “This is a Great Country.” But I suspect that Hey, Look Me Over! will come full circle by reprising this number.
For a curtain call, what’s more logical than “Everybody Loves to Take a Bow” from Hazel Flagg? Here’s hoping that all these songs – and more – get to take another bow come February.
Peter Filichia also writes a column each Monday at www.broadwayselect.com and each Friday at www.mtishows.com. His book The Great Parade: Broadway’s Astonishing, Never-To-Be Forgotten 1963-1964 Season is now available at www.amazon.com.