As We Conclude March Madness
Have you been wondering why the National Collegiate Athletic Association nicknames its annual basketball tournament “March Madness” when the tournament heats up in April? Or why CBS calls its broadcast “The Road to the Final Four” even after the final four teams have been narrowed down to the final two teams?
Never mind. These are, of course, questions with which musical theater aficionados need not be concerned. Instead, let’s enjoy our own last week of March Madness.
For those just tuning in, I’ve been spending the month urging readers to play a cast album or a least a song on each day of the month to commemorate the anniversary of a March opening night or a March birthday. I’ve done the first three weeks in my last three columns, and now the end is near as we approach the final curtain.
On March 26, celebrate Martin Short’s sixty-third birthday by playing his songs from The Goodbye Girl. Earlier this month, when the Neil Simon-Marvin Hamlisch-David Zippel musical marked its twentieth anniversary, I suggested that you play the excellent “Elliot Garfield Grant,” in which he tells Paula (Bernadette Peters) that because he has title to the apartment, he’s doing her a big favor in letting her and her daughter live with him. It’s a terrific comedy number, but Short doesn’t come up short when delivering the show’s big ballad “I Think I Can Play This Part” of both husband and father. Try that one today.
March 27 would have been Budd Schulberg’s ninety-ninth birthday. His 1941 novel What Makes Sammy Run? became a 1964 musical, thanks to Ervin Drake’s much underrated score. Pop singer Steve Lawrence played Sammy Glick, the gopher who would go-for any opportunity to advance. He becomes a big-time Hollywood producer who discovers on his wedding night that his new wife – still in her white dress – is in bed with someone else. Screenwriter Kit Sargeant (Sally Ann Howes) and newspaperman Al Manheim (Robert Alda) are happy to think (if not say) “Hooray and hallelujah; you had it comin’ to ya.”
Actually, if Kit had been smart, she would have become romantically involved with Al long ago, but you know how so many women love those bad boys. Earlier in the show she had told Al as much in one of Drake’s most beautiful songs “Maybe Some Other Time.” This is the time for you to play it.
As my buddy Al Koenig reminded me, March 28 marks the forty-third anniversary of Ethel Merman’s debut in Hello, Dolly! Perhaps if RCA Victor hadn’t already recorded two additional albums after Carol Channing’s original – one with Mary Martin, another with Pearl Bailey — they might have waxed Merman’s turn as Dolly. But by 1970, there was even another recording of Jerry Herman’s landmark score: the soundtrack that starred Walter Matthau.
Ah, but on the “Collector’s Deluxe Hello, Dolly! ” edition that was released in 2003, you can hear the two songs that Herman had originally written for Merman when, seven or so years earlier, he assumed that she’d be his leading lady; they went back in when she became Broadway’s seventh and final Dolly. “Love, Look in My Window” (which followed “Dancing”) is essentially Dolly’s version of “Ribbons Down My Back.” Dolly decides that all those years she’s spent widowed and alone have involved enough mourning. “World, Take Me Back” (which followed “It Takes a Woman”) could be viewed as an early first draft of “Before the Parade Passes By” for it says much the same thing. And while both of these recordings offer only piano accompaniment, you know that Merman can be counted on to provide the brass. (Keen ears who know Herman’s Dear World might recognize in the latter song a musical phrase that wended its way into “Each Tomorrow Morning.”)
Last week, I urged you to play “It’s a Bird … It’s a Plane … It’s Superman” on March 20 to celebrate what turned out to be the opening of a top-notch concert rendition at Encores! Now on March 29, the forty-seventh anniversary of its opening, why not give an encore to this superb score by Charles Strouse and Lee Adams?
Or given that March 29 marks the sixty-second anniversary of the opening of The King and I, commemorate the date by not playing the original cast album. After all, everyone says that Gertrude Lawrence, charming as she was in her Tony-winning role, no longer had the voice to do the score justice. Ah, but in 1964, Barbara Cook recorded a studio album, so you know that she’ll deliver the goods for you. Another option: in honor of Rise Stevens, who died last week, try her 1964 Music Theater of Lincoln Center recording.
Wait, you say, no offense to Theodore Bikel or Darren McGavin (who respectively played opposite Cook and Stevens), but when I want to hear The King and I, I want to hear the real king: Yul Brynner. Fine; we can accommodate you there, too, with the 1977 revival cast album that made the show a hit all over again.
On March 30, play the soundtrack album of Contact. I can hear many rail that I didn’t say “original cast album.” No, not really. No one on stage in the 2000 Tony-winner sang a note – including Boyd Gaynes and Karen Ziemba, who won Tonys themselves. Contact was totally composed of prerecorded music that was played over the theater’s sound system as Susan Stroman’s cast of 18 danced or at least reacted to it. That makes this a soundtrack album.
But it’s a fetching one, with something for everyone. There can’t be another Broadway recording that offers music by Edvard Grieg, Tchaikovsky and Bizet before seguing into such early rock hits as “Runaround Sue,” “Beyond the Sea” and “Do You Wanna Dance?” So whether you’re in a classical or pop mood come March 30, Contact’s got your covered.
March 31 goes down in history as the day in 1943 that Rodgers and Hammerstein created a new musical model via Oklahoma! Precisely fourteen years later, they adapted Cinderella for television, creating a score that ranks with their best. Thus, spend the day listening to the original cast album.
Now I can hear many rail that I’m calling an album from TV special an original cast album instead of a soundtrack. Ah, but the recording is not lifted from the TV broadcast itself; it actually was recorded in a studio, and thus deserves the “original cast” moniker.
Some weeks ago, when the new version of Cinderella started previews on Broadway, I wrote about the famous 1957 Julie Andrews album. No question you can’t go wrong with that. However, maybe today you should play the soundtrack (yes, soundtrack) from the 1965 remake. No time for all of it? Then check out “Loneliness of Evening,” a song originally written for Lieutenant Cable in South Pacific, but added to this new Cinderella. It’s also part of the new Broadway production, which I liked quite a bit. (Check out www.kritzerland.com/filichia0315.htm to see why.)
And once you’re done with that, spend the next day listening to the Hawaiian cast album of 13 Daughters, the Eaton Magoon, Jr. musical that came to Broadway for twenty-eight performances in 1961. It offers such goodies as “Puka Puka Pants,” “Let-a-Go Your Heart,” “Calabash Cousins,” “Lei of Memories” and “Hoomalimali.” The score, by the way, stinks.
So why am I urging you to play it the day after you’ve heard the marvelous Cinderella? Because that day will be April 1 – and I think you can figure out the rest.
Peter Filichia also writes a column each Friday at www.kritzerland.com.and www.mtishows.com. His books on musicals are available at Amazon.com.