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Seeing the recent, brilliantly staged reading of HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING by The National Asian Artists Project started me thinking.

Frank Loesser had twice provided the music and lyrics for the biggest musical hit of the season.

And yet, in both instances, he lost the Best Score Tony to other composer-lyricists.

First came GUYS AND DOLLS, which in 1951 saw the medallion go to Irving Berlin for his score to CALL ME MADAM.

Eleven years later, Loesser’s H2$ score (as its 1995 revival was chummily dubbed) succumbed to Richard Rodgers’ NO STRINGS.

In retrospect, weren’t Berlin’s and Rodgers’ wins more like Lifetime Achievement Awards than rewards for the scores themselves?

Berlin’s past successes had predated the Tonys; ANNIE GET YOUR GUN was just a couple of years too early. So, perhaps Berlin was essentially being honored for his contributions to 48 musicals since 1910.

Conversely, GUYS AND DOLLSwas only Loesser’s second musical. His first, WHERE’S CHARLEY?, lost the Best Score prize to Cole Porter’s KISS ME, KATE. No argument there.

But CALL ME MADAM vs. GUYS AND DOLLS in the Best Score category? Let’s make a few comparisons.

Berlin’s big ballad “Marrying for Love” with Loesser’s “I’ve Never Been in Love Before”?

Berlin’s comedy song “Can You Use Any Money Today?” with Loesser’s “Adelaide’s Lament”?

Yes, Berlin’s eleven o’clock number “You’re Just in Love” was a showstopper that earned its encore. But even it can’t compare to Loesser’s “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat,” which of course received an encore, too.

Moving ahead 11 seasons: Rodgers, too, may have received a boost from 1961-62 Tony voters because so many of his shows had opened long before the awards were founded. However, unlike Berlin, he’d already won Tonys for SOUTH PACIFIC, THE KING AND I and THE SOUND OF MUSIC.

That Oscar Hammerstein, Rodgers’ most successful partner, had died only 19 months earlier may have spurred some sympathy votes. More likely, though, some voters had to be impressed that Rodgers was able to come up with music and every one of the lyrics, for the first time in his six-decade career.

Yet has anyone noticed how many times Rodgers repeated lyrics in most of his NO STRINGS songs? Loesser did virtually none of that in H2$.

Still, although H2$ would run more than twice as long as NO STRINGS, Rodgers did find that easy-listening radio stations preferred his “The Sweetest Sounds” to Loesser’s “I Believe in You.”

And in record sales, H2$’s original cast album wasn’t commensurately popular with the show’s sold-out status. According to Billboard, it stayed on the “Top LPs” chart for 19 weeks, never going above 19th place. On the other hand, NO STRINGS stayed on for 27 weeks and reached as high as fifth place.

(Please understand that we are not talking about Billboard’s chart solely for “show albums.” No; this was the “Top LPs” chart that listed album sales for each and every kind of music. Yes, believe it or not, there was a time when only 18 albums in the country were selling better than H2$, and a mere four were outselling NO STRINGS.)

Granted, the two stories were very different; NO STRINGS told of a serious interracial romance, while H2$ was a satire on the corporate world.

As a result, of Rodgers’ 14 songs, nine dealt with love in some form. They ranged from affectionate (“Look No Further”), tender (”Nobody Told Me”) and joyous (“Loads of Love”), to sardonic (“How Sad”) and angry (“You Don’t Tell Me”).

Of Loesser’s 13 songs, only five were love-centric, but just barely. “Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm” had secretary Rosemary more interested in up-and-comer Finch as a meal ticket. True, she was willing to make a fair trade by being a traditional wife for a “darling tycoon” – two words that had probably never been linked before.

Finch’s aria “Rosemary” would never be confused with WEST SIDE STORY’s “Maria” or even “Rosie” in BYE BYE BIRDIE. Despite his expressions of ardor, Finch is more interested in getting ahead than getting married.

“Love from a Heart of Gold” is an out-and-out parody in which a dirty old man does his best to be sincere.

And in those days, truly sincere love songs were expected of musicals. As the 1961-62 season began, there had been many such declarations of love in the previous 13 Best Musical winners. Only two – THE KING AND I and MY FAIR LADY – didn’t wind up with at least one couple in love.

(Given enough time, Henry Higgins might have yet come around.)

Loesser’s H2$ score mostly consisted of funny songs. The 1961-62 season was a time when the word “pad” was trendy slang for “apartment.” So, let’s applaud that in “A Secretary Is Not a Toy,” we hear “Her pad is to write in, and not spend the night in.”

And who expected that Loesser’s “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat” would lose its place, as the best eleven-o’clock number ever, to Loesser’s H2$ entry, “Brotherhood of Man”?

Of all the true giants who composed scores during the Tony era, Frank Loesser is the only one who didn’t win the prize. We couldn’t have expected it of his 1960, 90-performance GREENWILLOW, for the Tonys weren’t giving a Best Score Award then.

Coincidentally enough, they eliminated the Best Score category after CALL ME MADAM and didn’t restore it until the season NO STRINGS premiered.

However, even if the award had been in place for GREENWILLOW, Loesser wouldn’t have won, in a Tony season that included THE SOUND OF MUSIC, GYPSY and FIORELLO!

Five years later, his PLEASURES AND PALACES was ineligible, for it closed in Detroit. However, had it opened on May 10, 1965, at the Lunt-Fontanne, Loesser wouldn’t have bested Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick for their FIDDLER ON THE ROOF.

That leaves one musical that would have been a contender for Best Musical that, in its time period, would have given Loesser a Tony. We’ll talk about that next Tuesday…

Peter Filichia can be heard most weeks of the year on His new book – BRAINTEASERS FOR BROADWAY GENIUSES – is now available on Amazon and at The Drama Book Shop.