By Peter Filichia —
It’s not for you. It’s not for me.
But it’s going to make a whale of a present for a lot of people -– especially young ones.
It’s Broadway in a Box, and it offers twenty-five cast albums that were among the first that you bought for yourself. If you’re not a kid, you may even recall phoning the record store umpteen times a day and eagerly asking about one or more of them: “Is it in yet?”
But what are we going to do about the other generation? You know, the younger kids who don’t know Harold Prince from Faith Prince. We want them to become acquainted with and make friends with show music. With arts education in many schools being terribly curtailed because the football team demands new decals for its helmets, you have to step up to the plate. Make their lives happier by introducing them to great songs with equally great lyrics.
With the advent of High School Musical and Glee, musical theater has finally shed the “uncool” image it had unfairly acquired in the previous few decades. Now let the young people unequivocally discover that there’s gold in them thar musicals that became gold and platinum sellers.
We’re dealing with a good deal of popular success here. These twenty-five musicals ran a total of 35,347 performances. That’s an average of three years and almost five months – and the total would have been much higher if two of the shows (The King and I and Show Boat) weren’t limited-run revivals at Lincoln Center that respectively ran forty and sixty-three performances. All twenty-five have been made into either films or TV specials.
Through television and video, some of the teens and tweens you know – be they nieces and nephews or sons and daughters of close friends – have already seen the film versions. If they enjoyed what they saw and heard, won’t they relish hearing the songs that were originally part of the score but weren’t included in the film.
The vast majority of kids born after 1965 have been brought up with The Sound of Music. Now that they’re a little older, they’ll see the sardonic humor in “No Way to Stop It” and “How Can Love Survive?” both of which were excised from the film. Those who know the movie extraordinarily well will delight in discovering that the melody from the latter song shows up as background music in one of the film’s scenes.
In the film of Hello, Dolly! our heroine’s opening song “Just Leave Everything to Me” is merely a list song. Yes, it tells us what Dolly does. But “I Put My Hand In,” the original opening song for our Yonkers matchmaker, does better by telling us who Dolly is. And how about hearing Carol Channing – much more right for Dolly than Barbra Streisand was in 1969 – sing “Motherhood” as a distraction and subterfuge, all the while getting in some delightful non-sequiturs.
And speaking of matchmakers, Yente in the Fiddler on the Roof film didn’t get the chance to sing “I Just Heard.” The citizens of Anatevka prove that even the most benign rumor gets increasingly out of control every time a new person tells it. Where in a musical era in which such current hit songs as Pink’s “Blow Me (One Last Kiss)” can teens find such deft wordplay?
One of Hollywood’s strangest cuts from a Broadway musical was “A Bushel and a Peck” from Guys and Dolls. This was a genuine hit song soon after the show debuted in 1950. All right, perhaps it is a little unsophisticated for today’s teens, but here’s betting that their much younger brothers and sisters will enjoy hearing it and then singing it.
“What Do You Want of Me?” — one of the most beautiful songs from Man of La Mancha — was dropped from the film. That’s a pity, for it shows the plaintive side of Aldonza, who has to this point been (literally) spit and gumption. Kids who have seen the movie of La Mancha will probably enjoy hearing other songs they’ve missed, such as “The Impossible Dream,” “Aldonza” and “A Little Gossip.” Oh, not that these songs weren’t in the film. Indeed they were. But most people turn off the film before they get that far into it.
Here’s a chance, too, for kids to experience superior Broadway performers than their movie counterparts. Zero Mostel was a perfect ten in Fiddler (at least on the day of the recording), and does substantially better than the mannered Topol. Carol Burnett is a million wonderful things, but she certainly didn’t surpass Dorothy Loudon in Annie. And let kids hear Chita Rivera in both West Side Story and Chicago. Both the roles she played on stage – Anita and Velma — won Oscars for the actresses who replaced her (Rita Moreno and Catherine Zeta-Jones). Don’t be surprised if Rivera’s renditions put her in first place with the teens.
It’s not just the extra songs or terrific performances that make Broadway in a Box an apt gift for teenagers. Some of the songs in these shows will greatly speak to today’s youth. Take “Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love.” Granted, only the rarest of today’s teens have heard of Troy Donahue, Robert Goulet or Steve McQueen. But virtually everything else that the A Chorus Line cast sings in this musical montage is still relevant to teens (and probably always will be): acne, nocturnal emissions, lack of height, slow body development, teacher-student problems, homework, parental embarrassment and sexual experimentation.
In The King and I, Anna’s rant over the Siamese monarch — “Shall I Tell You What I Think of You?” – will resonate with teens who are already employed and who are equally furious with their bosses. And in an age when we hear that parents are increasingly demanding of their kids and often have unrealistic expectations for them, kids will relate to Louise’s plight in Gypsy. Those who feel that their parents favor one sibling over another will also relate to Louise’s other problem.
Although the teens to whom you’ll give this gift are not yet married (we hope), they may have already been in relationships that make them feel “Sorry/Grateful” (as Company informs). They’ll also see that musicals are not all cotton candy. Kids weaned on movies’ blood and gore will get the same in a much more sophisticated way, thanks to Sweeney Todd. Let kids discover the verbal pyrotechnics that Stephen Sondheim devised for “A Little Priest.” Kids will soon be singing it, no matter what their religious affiliation.
By the time your teens have listened to all twenty-five albums, you may find that they may be mirroring your enthusiasm for musical theater. Some will do as you did years ago: play certain albums over and over and over again. And why not? The time has come for another generation to discover the fun, the intelligence and genuine melody for which Broadway once was famous.
In a way, you have a responsibility if not duty to let them hear these great songs and musicals. If you don’t, they may come to think that music merely consists of such songs as – and these are genuine titles – “Cop Killer,” “Damn, It Feels Good to be a Gangsta,” “Who Shot Ya?” and “F*ck Tha Police.” We can offer them better alternatives.