Dropped but Not Forgotten By Peter Filichia
A trip to the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario yielded several terrific productions, but the crown jewel was Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s Sweeney Todd.
Artistic director Jackie Maxwell did a superb job of staging, but her greatest achievement was a smart new idea for the show’s most controversial song: Judge Turpin’s “Johanna.”
Traditionally it’s had a pervert peeking through a keyhole where his ward since infancy – now in full-grown womanhood — is looking out a window. While he spies, he alternates between abusing himself sexually with his hand and physically with a whip. He augments “Mea culpa!” to “Mea maxima culpa!” and ups it even higher to “Mea maxima maxima culpa!”
(In plain English, that’s “My fault,” “My grievous fault” and “My most grievous fault.”)
Well, Sondheim, Wheeler and director Hal Prince witnessed preview audiences and learned that their seeing and hearing a man moan while doing these two atypical tasks didn’t make them sing out “That’s entertainment!” So after two previews, out went the song.
Now, thirty-seven years on, Maxwell found how to stage Turpin’s “Johanna” without scandalizing anyone. Marcus Nance’s Turpin
has neither whip nor, uh, organ in his hands; the agony he feels comes only from intense guilt. That’s what makes The Judge only metaphorically beat himself up.
Surprisingly enough, though, the song made it onto the original cast album. Musical theatre newbies who get the recording and haven’t seen the show will automatically assume that it’s as much a part of the score as “A Little Priest” or “Not While I’m Around.”
Including a song on an album that’s no longer in the musical is a rarity. Sometimes cast albums include songs that are in the show but are later dropped – which brings us to Camelot.
Those who didn’t see Lerner and Loewe’s follow-up to My Fair Lady until its fourth month or later – but already knew the album by then – would have had the same experience. Where were “Then You May Take Me to the Fair,” Queen Guenevere’s taunting of Lancelot by encouraging other admirers, and “Fie on Goodness!” in which the Knights of the Round Table rebelled?
Alas, the musical that had opened in December was by February experiencing walkouts by the hundreds. Considering that the record-breaking advance would be gone by May, director Moss Hart and bookwriter-lyricist Alan Jay Lerner decided to continue work on the show (a situation that seldom happens once a musical has opened).
Among the changes Lerner made was cutting these two songs. They may have slowed down the show, but they’ll always sound great on the cast album.
Sondheim’s Anyone Can Whistle is a musical that deals with miracles. But the real miracle is that the show made it into the recording studio. After all, when the album was recorded on Sunday, April 12, 1964, the musical had already closed the night before. Never had a non-operatic musical that had limped through so few performances – a mere nine — been preserved on wax. But Goddard Lieberson, then president of Columbia Records, believed in Sondheim’s score and never mind that it would probably sell as many copies as the show had had performances.
(To date, the album has never been out of print, so it’s undoubtedly sold more copies than all of Sondheim’s new shows and their revivals.)
An even greater miracle was Lieberson’s recording “There Won’t Be Trumpets,” Nurse Fay Apple’s insistence that when a hero comes to rescue everyone, his appearance will be, to quote a Fred Ebb lyric that Broadway would come to know in thirteen months, a quiet thing.
The song had been dropped in Philadelphia, because the long speech that Lee Remick was given to say before it – an astonishing 516 words long – was an almost-song in itself that made “Trumpets” seem redundant. (Frankly, bookwriter-director Arthur Laurents often remarked that Remick couldn’t sing it. Listen to it on the CD and see if you agree. I certainly don’t.)
And yet, after going through the trouble of recording it, which took precious time from a recording session that had to be wrapped up in a single day, Lieberson didn’t put it on the album. Space was undoubtedly a consideration in the shorter long-playing records. We must wonder if Lieberson saw a future when a new type of recording – a CD, as it turned out — would be able to accommodate much more music, and then “There Won’t Be Trumpets” could be trumpeted to all.
Listen to the 1967 revival cast album of Rodgers and Hart’s By Jupiter and you’ll hear its best-known song: “Wait Till You See Her.”
True, thirteen years had to pass before anyone really noticed it, and bless Mabel Mercer for bringing it to America’s attention, but of course as “Wait Till You See Him.” So did Helen Merrill, Ella Fitzgerald, Blossom Dearie and Mary Martin; Frank Sinatra, Vic Damone and Miles Davis eventually followed. Rodgers wrote many great waltzes that ranged from swirling to wistful, but none that sound as determined as this one.
But had cast albums been recorded when the show originally opened in 1942, you wouldn’t have heard “Wait Till You See Him.” During By Jupiter’s Boston tryout, it was proving to be more trouble than expected. From place to place, from character to character it went, and although it made it to opening night on Broadway, Rodgers removed it the next morning, much to director Joshua Logan’s chagrin.
If you’d memorized the cast album of Bells Are Ringing but only managed to attend late in the run, you would have been at home when playwright Jeffrey Moss started his first song with the words
“You gotta do it; you gotta do it; gotta do it all!”
But wait! Did Hal Linden (Sydney Chaplin’s replacement) forget to sing the word “alone” that finished that line in “On My Own,” his insistence that he didn’t need the collaborator with whom he’d been working for years.
No. For while those twelve words of the verse were there, suddenly there were new ones: “No one’s gonna do it for you; you’re on your own.” Comden and Green, who’d sold the property to Hollywood, thought they could write a better song for the spot and came up with “Do It Yourself.” They gave it a, shall-we-say, pre-Hollywood tryout by putting it into the show as it neared the end of its 924-performance run.
In the Bells Are Ringing film, Dean Martin played the playwright who’d had hit after hit with his collaborator but now worried that he’d be broke after their break-up. Although Jeffrey built up his confidence during “Do It Yourself,” by the end of the song, he reverted to his previous self-doubting self.
“Ah, what’s the use?” he asked himself. “I’ll never make it alone.”
Dean Martin had broken up with Jerry Lewis a mere three years earlier. Aren’t you surprised that he didn’t insist that the line be dropped?
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.