As much fun as SCHMIGADOON! is – and as great as some of our favorite theater performers are performing in it — you’ll enjoy it even more if you know what’s being parodied.
Let’s start at the very beginning of the now-available soundtrack album of Episode One. All those busy violinists fiddling away in the first seconds of the Overture bring to mind the ones who introduce OKLAHOMA! The song that follows is so close in structure to that 1943 classic’s title tune that you can a-l-m-o-s-t sing Oscar Hammerstein’s lyrics to the new melody that Cinco Paul has provided.
The overture’s tone is precisely right, too. As Ethan Mordden wrote in his COMING UP ROSES: THE BROADWAY MUSICALS IN THE 1950S, overtures of that era sounded confident. This one does, too, certain that it’s starting a show that will bring its audiences substantial pleasure.
SCHMIGADOON’S title tune starts with Tony-winner Kristin Chenoweth singing “Welcome to our little town.” Of course it does; an opening number that has a soloist and then a chorus that tells an audience where it is and how it feels is a time-honored musical theatre device. Some such songs are well-known: “Good Morning, Baltimore” (HAIRSPRAY); “A Typical Day” (LI’L ABNER). Some are semi-known: “Move Over, New York” (BAJOUR); “A Very Proper Town” (OH CAPTAIN!). And then there are the totally unknown ones, such as the one that began “Every day’s a holiday in Buttrio Square.”
Doesn’t ring a bell? It’s from the notoriously awful 1952 musical BUTTRIO SQUARE that got its butt squarely kicked by all seven daily newspaper critics.
And while we’re at it, let’s celebrate another musical that starts with the title tune before taking us “Down on MacConnachy Square.” They’re from, yes, BRIGADOON.
Aaron Tveit, who’ll soon win a Tony for MOULIN ROUGE! (primarily because he’s the only candidate) sings “You Can’t Tame Me,” a hero’s boasting of his confirmed bachelorhood. There are echoes of Curly in OKLAHOMA! not to mention “I’m a Bad, Bad Man” and even “C’est Moi,” songs that Robert Goulet recorded, the former as Frank Butler on the studio cast album of ANNIE GET YOUR GUN and the latter in his career-making role as Lancelot in CAMELOT.
However, the real inspiration for the song is evident when Tveit sings “And somehow I can see exactly how it’s be” which is almost word-for-word what Billy sings in CAROUSEL’s “If I Loved You.” In addition, if there’s any doubt that that second Rodgers and Hammerstein classic is what Cinco Paul had in mind, the sentiments that follow are very reminiscent of that show’s “Soliloquy.”
Is it possible that Cinco Paul is familiar enough with the Broadway canon to have “The Husking Bee” from SAY, DARLING in mind when he wrote “Corn Puddin’”?
Jule Styne, much better known for GYPSY, and Betty Comden and Adolph Green, who were celebrated from their first show (ON THE TOWN) to their last (THE WILL ROGERS FOLLIES), wrote a marvelous parody of those show songs that celebrate food, glorious food ( a la “Toot Sweets” from CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG). Paul has adeptly followed suit here.
And that’s not all. Notice that halfway through “Corn Puddin’” Paul has included a favorite Broadway device: the modulation, meaning that the song’s key is upped a notch. Marvin Hamlisch was fond of saying that whenever a composer has his melody modulate, that’s a sure sign that the lyricist has nothing more to say and that both are hoping that the key change will keep audiences from noticing.
That’s not quite true here, because this is where Melissa, one of the two BRIGADOON-like visitors who has been baffled by what she’s been seeing, gives into the wonderful world of musical comedy and joins the song. Who can blame her?
“The Leprechaun Song” is short. Is that why they had Martin Short do it? No, he’s got the right insouciance for it. Those thirty-eight seconds certain uphold the show biz tradition of “Always leave ‘em wantin’ more.”
And for those who do, don’t miss the leprechaun’s two songs in FINIAN’S RAINBOW: “Something Sort of Grandish” is more than just grandish. Moreover, try – just try – to find a more skillfully witty lyric (thank you, E.Y. Harburg) than “When I’m Not Near the Girl I Love (I Love the Girl I’m Near).”
Cast albums have often taken time to include an instrumental or two: “The Embassy Waltz” (MY FAIR LADY), “Jump for Joy” (THE GOODBYE GIRL), as well as the marvelous Entr’actes for CABARET and IT’S A BIRD, IT’S A PLANE, IT’S SUPERMAN. This Episode One recording has three instrumental selections by Christopher Willis, who’s scored the series.
SCHMIGADOON! also offers a great asset that, sad to say, is missing from today’s Broadway musicals: an enormous orchestra right down to the harp. That’s a true Golden Age component that Cinco Paul was wise to demand.
An aside: The word SCHMIGADOON is the third time a musical has that end with the four-letter non-word DOON. While bookwriter-lyricist Alan Jay Lerner and composer Frederick Loewe were writing BRIDGADOON, their working title was RIGADOON. The B came later, before the Grade A reviews and reception.
Finally, SCHMIGADOON! wouldn’t be a true parody of Broadway musicals if its title didn’t conclude with an exclamation point. Although in actuality the vast majority of musicals don’t sport such punctuation, the cliché has been in place so long that many people assume that most musicals do.
Nevertheless, take the chance to revisit DR. SEUSS’ HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS!, BLAST!. GEORGE M!, HALLELUJAH, BABY!, HELLO, DOLLY!, OH CAPTAIN!, OKLAHOMA!, OLIVER!, OVER HERE!, SWING! and that champ of exclamation points, I DO! I DO! – before or after you’ve savored SCHMIGADOON!
Peter Filichia can be heard most weeks of the year on www.broadwayradio.com. He’s a contributor to the new magazine Encore Monthly.