Make Some August Holidays
By Peter Filichia —
August is the only month in which we don’t have a true official holiday. Oh, August 11 is a big day in India and the day after is a big deal in Armenia. But for Americans, such big days as Halloween, Thanksgiving or Christmas occur in other months – not to mention The Fourth of July.
So we must make our own holidays during this holiday-deprived month. Here are some listening suggestions for you to take on certain days so you won’t need a little Christmas.
1 — Can it really already be eight years since four Broadway neophytes – Robert Lopez, Jeff Marx, Jason Moore and Jeff Whitty – read their rave reviews on this date in 2003 for their Avenue Q? Little did they know their biggest victory was yet to come: beating Wicked for the Best Musical prize the following June. A listen to the original cast album explains a great deal.
3 — It’s a triple play for Damn Yankees. Richard Adler who co-wrote the score, as well as Jimmie Komack and Nathaniel Frey, who played Washington Senators in the 1955 hit, all share birthdays today. Play it today, whether or not either Washington or New York wins its baseball games today.
4 — It’s the birthday of Bobby Howes, who was the title character in the 1960 revival of Finian’s Rainbow. Some prefer that recording to the original 1947, so play them both and decide for yourself. One other good thing about Bobby Howes: without him, we wouldn’t have had Sally Ann Howes, who’s so winning in What Makes Sammy Run?
5 — Faith Prince, whom many considered to be the definitive Miss Adelaide in the 1992 revival of Guys and Dolls, was born on this date. Listen to her in the “Adelaide’s Lament” reprise where she expresses such disappointment at not being married. Even confirmed old bachelor Henry Higgins would want Nathan to give in and marry her already.
6 — Lucille Ball’s birthday. (Her hundredth, in fact.) Of course she only did one Broadway musical – Wildcat – which flopped, but it’s one of those discs that makes one wonder how it could possibly have not succeeded. What a great Cy Coleman-Carolyn Leigh score! Give a little listen.
8 — Keith Carradine’s birthday. He really should have won the Tony as Best Actor in a Musical for showing such earnest charm in the title role in The Will Rogers Follies. (Besides, Jonathan Pryce, who won for his Engineer in Miss Saigon, should have won in the supporting category.)
10 — Eddie Fisher’s birthday He never appeared in a book musical, but if he hadn’t had recorded the title song for “Wish You Were Here” – and had such an enormous hit with it — the show wouldn’t have lasted, and we wouldn’t have an original cast album of Harold Rome’s charming look at a Catksills summer resort.
13 — As Max in The Sound of Music, Kurt Kaznar managed to do twice what his counterpart, Richard Haydn, couldn’t do once in the famous film: sing. Kaznar led “How Can Love Survive?” and contributed to “No Way to Stop It.” Both cuts are worth revisiting on his birthday.
14 — Put on a happy birthday face for Bye Bye Birdie’s lyricist Lee Adams. His best set of lyrics, however, may be for “It’s a Bird … It’s a Plane … It’s Superman!” Case in point: when Lois Lane considers dumping Superman, she hopes to find “a homey type who’ll stay around; a guy with both feet on the ground.”
15 — Come follow the band and celebrate the birthday of Jim Dale . His lickety-split delivery of lyrics in Barnum still amazes.
16 — Anita Gillette’s birthday. In 1962, Irving Berlin saw Gillette in All-American and was so impressed that he wanted her to play the president’s daughter in his upcoming musical Mr. President. So when the producers put ads in the trades looking for an actress to play the part, they specifically asked for “An Anita Gillette type.” Gillette was thrilled – until she had to audition more than once to get “the Anita Gillette role.”
17 — Robert De Niro’s birthday. Granted, we don’t associate the two-time Oscar-winner with musical theater, but John Kander tells me De Niro is responsible for one of our favorite songs. For when Kander and Ebb were signed to write the title song for New York, New York, they brought in a tune– which De Niro didn’t like. He felt that because he was playing a very talented songwriter, he would automatically come up with something much better than this. So Kander and Ebb went back to the writing board and came up with the song we all know and love today. It’s so iconic that on And the World Goes ‘Round, the revue of K&E’s songs, it’s sung in many different languages – because the revue’s conceivers (Scott Ellis, Susan Stroman and David Thompson) knew that we already had memorized all the English lyrics.
19 — Fred Stone’s birthday. He was a big star at the turn of the century, originating the role of The Scarecrow in the 1903 The Wizard of Oz. His daughter Dorothy became a Broadway star, too; their apotheosis came when they headlined in Stepping Stones in 1924. Few know of them today, although millions might have, had Stephen Sondheim’s original lyric for “Mr. Goldstone” stayed in place: “There are good stones and bad stones and curbstones and Gladstones and limestones white and red; there are big stones and small stones and grindstones and gallstones and Dorothy and Fred.” Hear Ethel Merman sing these lines (and others!) as a bonus track on the most recent reissues of Gypsy.
23 — Gene Kelly’s birthday. Now of course you could watch any of a number of DVDs of movies in which the star appeared, but you can also take the less traveled road by listening to the original cast album of Flower Drum Song, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s penultimate hit. At first glance, there would seem to be no connection, but there indeed is: Kelly directed the original production to a 600-performance run.
25 — Leonard Bernstein’s birthday. On the Town, Wonderful Town, Candide and West Side Story have all been recorded multiple times. Bernstein didn’t do much more for the musical theater, because one of his mentors told him to concentrate on so-called serious music and not bother with Broadway. The irony is that Bernstein’s work for the theater has had far more staying power than his classical work. I hope that mentor is roasting in a place where there are much higher temperatures than we just endured in July.
26 — Michael Jeter’s birthday. We didn’t know who he was until he appeared in Grand Hotel and won the Best Featured Musical Actor Tony. Although the awards traditionally air on CBS, on the Friday after the June 3, 1990 broadcast, ABC News named Jeter the Person of the Week, and replayed his acceptance speech: “If you’ve got a problem with alcohol or drugs, you can’t stop, you think life can’t change, and that dreams can’t come true, then I stand here as living proof that you can stop. It changes a day at a time, and dreams come true.” Celebrate both his achievements today by listening to one of the greatest showstoppers in Broadway history: “We’ll Take a Glass Together.”
27 — Sam S. Shubert’s birthday. He died in a train crash in 1905 when he was a mere 26 years old. The Shubert Theatre is actually the Sam S. Shubert, named for him by his two brothers Lee and J.J. (His photograph appears in the lobbies of many of their theaters.) Mark the birthday of the youngest man for whom a Broadway theater was ever named by playing the cast album of the longest attraction to ever play there: A Chorus Line, of course.
28 — The birthday of one of Broadway’s biggest one-hit wonders: Elizabeth Seal, who, as the title character of Irma La Douce, was able to beat out Carol Channing, Nancy Walker and, yes, even Julie Andrews as Best Actress in a Musical. (She was, in fact, the only actress in Irma La Douce.) Hear why she won on the always-in-print original cast album.
29 — It’s the birthday of the star of I Can Get It for You Wholesale, who married a supporting player in the cast. Except that she – one Barbra Streisand — leapfrogged over him – one Elliot Gould – and the marriage soon ended. Listen to them in happier times on the original cast album.
30 — Shirley Booth’s birthday. In the novel of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, her character Cissy isn’t the important one – but Arthur Schwartz and Dorothy Fields certainly built her up in their score. When people tell you that “Adelaide’s Lament” is the funniest show song of all time, ask them if they’ve heard Booth’s “He Had Refinement.”
31 — Alan Jay Lerner’s birthday. Play Brigadoon, Paint Your Wagon, My Fair Lady, Camelot and On a Clear Day You Can See Forever. Shows after those did less well, so let’s remember him when he was in his prime.
Peter Filichia also writes a column each Monday, Wednesday and Friday at www.theatermania.com/peterfilichia;. His new book Broadway Musicals: The Biggest Hit & the Biggest Flop of the Season, 1959-2009 is now available through Applause Books and at www.amazon.com.