Some of you may have noticed that I did a column on August’s minor holidays the first and second weeks of the month – but haven’t done one since.
I took a holiday.
But here we are with the final minor holiday of the month.
Perhaps it should be a major one.
August 27: Global Forgiveness Day.
What a great idea! Why not forgive all those people who have done you dirty? Give a blanket pardon to everyone. After all, what good did holding a grudge do for Sweeney Todd? Or Dr. Abner Sedgwick, who sings about “Revenge” against The Man of Steel in “It’s a Bird … It’s a Plane … It’s Superman.” Sedgwick wound up getting a pow, bam and zonk for his hatred.
They and we should all be inspired by Helen Burns — Jane Eyre’s schoolmate who preached mercy at every turn. Composer-lyricist Paul Gordon continued her legacy by writing “Forgiveness” for his 2000 musical.
Yes, forgiveness is the way to go. How would it have benefited Sarah in Ragtime if she hadn’t forgiven Coalhouse? Of course, doing so was facilitated by his playing “New Music.” Who could resist a gorgeous melody such as that? (And thank you, Stephen Flaherty, for giving it to us.)
Yeah, old Tony Esposito played a dirty trick on Amy when asking her to marry him by letter and including a picture of his butch handyman Joe. When all was revealed, he certainly wasn’t The Most Happy Fella. But Amy gave him a second chance to make a first impression and was “Happy to Make Your Acquaintance,” one of the most charming songs ever written. We can treat ourselves to either Robert Weede and Jo Sullivan on the 1956 original cast album or to Spiro Malas and Sophie Hayden on the quieter two-piano 1992 recording.
Wouldn’t it be something if George Lee Andrews’ unnamed husband in Starting Here, Starting Now could forgive his ex-wife? When he roars out the song “I Don’t Remember Christmas” – especially with the lyric “Did we really have some good times? Come on, tell me! I forget!” – the possibility seems unlikely. On the other hand, I’m glad he got this angry, because without it we wouldn’t have had this Maltby-Shire masterpiece.
It’s about time that the character Sally Mayes played in Closer Than Ever forgives Richard Muenz, too. Twenty-four years have passed since he ended their romantic relationship and offered to be “friends.” Mayes snarled a hilarious Maltby-Shire song called “You Want to Be My Friend?” that everyone who’s been dumped can relate to. Still, in the spirit of Global Forgiveness Day, let every dumpee absolve each former lover. Maybe everyone will learn to become friends.
Let’s forgive Pangloss for giving bad advice. Everything does not happen for the best in “The Best of All Possible Worlds,” as Candide painfully learns in the musical named for him. However, whether you listen to Max Adrian in the 1956 original, Lewis J. Stadlen in the 1974 revisal or Jim Dale in the 1997 revised revisal, you’ll hear some mighty sharp lyrics from Richard Wilbur (with a little help from his friends) that will need no forgiving. Pangloss’ rose-colored-glasses philosophy aside, “The Best of All Possible Worlds” is one of the best of all opening numbers.
“He had it comin’,” insist the Six Merry Murderesses of the Cook County Jail. In “Cell Block Tango,” the third terrific number in Chicago, we hear the reasons why a half-dozen husbands (and one betraying sister) had to die. Of course, as we know from any romantic relationship, there are three sides to every story: her side, his side and the truth. We’ll have to take the ladies’ word (and Fred Ebb’s, along with John Kander’s music) and take at face value what Chita Rivera and company told us in the 1975 original and/or Bebe Neuwirth in the current now-and-forever revival.
Near the end of her life, Evita asks our forgiveness in “Lament.” She has a good excuse, too: “Remember, I was very young then.” Andrew Lloyd Webber has taken a ton of heat in recent decades; some can’t forgive him for his success (so maybe they should start today). But as powerful as Tim Rice’s lyric is here – and it is – Lloyd Webber’s melody makes the line even more poignant.
Can you picture Elaine Stritch forgiving anyone? When she gets angry, she gets mad – meaning both and angry and crazy. In Goldilocks, Don Ameche pushes her to the limits, and she certainly isn’t in a forgiving mood when singing “The Beast in You.” We may never know which of the three lyricists — Joan Ford, Jean Kerr or Walter Kerr wrote this, but it’s great fun, matched to a pulsating melody from Leroy Anderson.
Paula McFadden in The Goodbye Girl isn’t inclined to be forgiving, and we can see why. Her boyfriend Tony ran out on her and her daughter Lucy on the very day that he’d promised to move them all to California. “No More,” she sings, in one of Marvin Hamlisch and David Zippel’s most passionate songs.
To add injury to the insult, Tony sublet their apartment to Elliot Garfield without any thought of what would happen to Paula or Lucy. And yet, this turned out to be a blessing in disguise; Paula and Lucy both fall in love with Elliot, but, as they later sing in one of the score’s bounciest melodies “Who Would Have Thought?” (And who could write happier music than Hamlisch?) If Paula never actually forgave Tony, perhaps now’s the time.
Will Charles VII of France ever forgive himself for the way he treated Joan of Arc? See, if you’re going to rule a country, you just can’t be a Goodtime Charley. Joel Grey is quite touching in his final number in that 1975 musical when he sings that “I Leave the World” and hopes that Joan will forgive him for what he allowed to happen. Larry Grossman’s music and Hal Hackady’s lyrics rise to the occasion.
A fine lyricist often tries to show a character’s emotion without using the actual word that defines the feeling. In Half a Sixpence, David Heneker managed to have a character forgive without using the word “forgive.” It happens in “Long Ago,” some time after Arthur Kipps, a mere apprentice shopman, promises Ann Pornick, a parlor maid, that he’ll marry her. But, oh, once Kipps comes into an unexpected fortune, he suddenly becomes involved with the high-and-mighty Helen Walsingham. Soon Kipps realizes who really loved him, and returns hat-in-hand to Ann. Listen to the lovely way in which she forgives him.
When the film version of Into the Woods comes out on Christmas Day 2014, will Jack, Baker, Witch, Cinderella and Little Red Ridinghood have forgiven each other? As of now, every one of them insists it’s “Your Fault.” They not only have this Global Forgiveness Day to let bygones be bygones, but next August’s too. And yet … do we really want to lose that hellishly witty Sondheim song?
Everyone who doesn’t live in the 212, 347, 646, 718, 917 or 929 area code must forgive Howard Dietz for a song he wrote for Jennie. “When You’re Far Away from New York Town” sounds innocuous enough at first glance, but the words that Dietz added were “you’re nowhere at all.” Arthur Schwartz wrote such a fetching cakewalk of a melody for the lyric that even the sternest out-of-towners may let the insult go.
In Kean – as in Edmund, the great British actor of two centuries ago – our hero is getting snide remarks from Prince while performing. Right then and there, Kean tells off the monarch, which is not what is done in England. He’s forced to make an “Apology?” as the final song goes. Listen and you’ll see that there’s a reason for that question mark.
By the way, Peter Stone of 1776 fame adapted Kean from the two plays of the same name. Neither Alexandre Dumas in 1836 nor Jean Paul Sartre in 1951 came up with the smart “Apology?” that Stone envisioned and Robert Wright and George Forrest wrote for their 1961 musical. It’s a true masterstroke.
In The Roar of the Greasepaint – the Smell of the Crowd, the character simply known as Sir (Cyril Ritchard) is a terrible bully to Cocky (Anthony Newley). The show might be pretty hard to take if it didn’t have such a great score — and “great” may well be an understatement. The 1965 show was the last traditional Broadway musical to yield four hit songs: “A Wonderful Day Like Today,” “The Joker,” “Who Can I Turn To?” and the one that turned out to have the greatest staying power: “Feeling Good.”
But the song that must be played on Global Forgiveness Day is the final one which is arguably the score’s most beautiful: “Sweet Beginning,” in which Cocky is willing to overlook the past if Sir and he can share a better future.
The Threepenny Opera didn’t originally have a song entitled “Ballad in Which Macheath Begs All Forgiveness,” but it got one when Ralph Manheim and John Willett provided a new translation for the 1976 production. Did they feel that Marc Blitzstein’s title — “Death Message” – was a little too dour? Whatever the case, Macheath’s plea for forgiveness definitely works, en route to a happy ending.
Frankly, I now enjoy listening to The Threepenny Opera revisal more than the off-Broadway original. Don’t misunderstand; that first recording is terrific. But after hearing it so many times, getting those familiar melodies with different lyrics is a nice spruce-up. And if you don’t agree, forgive me.