Musical Theater’s New Year’s Resolutions By Peter Filichia
As I post this, it’s January 3, 2017, which means that in the past forty-eight hours you’ve broken your New Year’s Resolutions.
Still, at nearly two days, that diet lasted longer many others you’ve attempted, didn’t it?
Well, there’s still time to make some musical theater resolutions. If you’ve been saying “soundtrack” when you’re referring to what is actually a “cast album,” resolve to never do it again. Remember: a movie has a track of sound. Broadway musicals don’t – well, at least most don’t …
If you’ve been saying “Mama Rose” for the leading character in Gypsy, resolve to stop that as well. You can’t find a single place in the script where this force of nature is called by those two words. “Madame Rose,” yes; “Momma” (note the spelling), sure. But never “Mama Rose.”
You’re saying that you already know these salient facts (which I’d expect), but you don’t know what resolutions to make this new year?
Resolve to listen to a musical theater recording each and every day of the year.
Your life will be far enhanced.
If you agree, why not tie in the album with the date? Come! I’ll make it easier for you – at least for the month of January.
January 3 — Pal Joey (1952): The first prequel cast album. Harold Lang as the title character and Vivienne Segal as Vera went into the studio simply to record the Rodgers and Hart score, but it was so well received that it inspired a revival in which they starred. At 540 performances, it became the longest-running revival in Broadway history. It’s now in thirtieth place, but the recording still is tops.
4 – Saint Joan (1968): This revival of Shaw’s classic started playwright Sidney Michaels thinking “Hmmm, what if there were a musical that didn’t center on Joan but Charles?” The result, Goodtime Charley, opened eight years later.
5 – The Mikado (1939): When this twenty-second Broadway revival of the Gilbert & Sullivan classic opened, Groucho Marx was filming At the Circus. He would have never imagined then that twenty-one years later he’d appear as Koko on this yet-to-be-perfected invention known as television.
6 — Oliver! (1963): Actually, had there not been a newspaper strike, David Merrick would have opened this much-anticipated London smash on December 27, 1962. But without reviews he assumed would be raves, Merrick postponed in the hopes the contretemps would be settled in the ensuing ten days. Alas, it wasn’t, so he opened. But aren’t you glad that you have reason to play Lionel Bart’s sensational score right now and won’t need to wait 355 more days?
7 — The King and I (1985): Yul Brynner’s swan song. He was terribly ill and would die a mere 102 days after this second revival of the R&H hit closed. Towards the end, he wasn’t even singing but was speaking “A Puzzlement.” Hear him in happier times on the 1977 revival recording.
8 — Elvis Presley’s birthday. Can you believe he’d be now be eighty-two? Celebrate by hearing both his famous and lesser-known songs in All Shook Up (2005).
9 — Street Scene (1947): Kurt Weill emigrated from Germany to America in hopes of having a career on Broadway, yes, but he wanted to write an opera, too. He did both by virtue of this work.
10 — Finian’s Rainbow (1947): The original cast album mentions Carmen Miranda, but by the time of the 1960 revival, she had died, so lyricist E.Y. Harburg created a new rhyme using Zsa Zsa Gabor. Given what happened on Dec. 18, we wish he were still around to write a new couplet.
11 — Pacific Overtures (1976): Yes, it was Sondheim’s shortest-running musical during his golden 1970s, but it’s still a masterpiece. Listen while wearing a bowler hat and drinking some unpoisoned chrysanthemum tea.
12 – Hello, Lola (1926): This version of Booth Tarkington’s Seventeen opened well before the advent of the original cast album. The consolation is that the 1951 version actually called Seventeen is available. See if you can stop playing “I Could Get Married Today” after you hear it once.
13 — Bye Bye Bonnie (1927): This was too early for a cast album, too. So play Bye Bye Birdie. In addition to the similar titles, they have another commonality, for both take place in mythical small towns: Sweet Apple, Ohio for Birdie and Shrivelton, New Jersey for Bonnie.
14 — Fosse (1999): Bob’s first all-dance show — Dancin’ in 1977 – is the longest-running original Broadway production to not get recorded. Luckily, the same mistake wasn’t made with this Tony winner.
15 — Two musicals — Cinderella (1855) and Little Red Riding Hood (1872) opened on this date, so while we’re waiting for their studio cast albums, play Into the Woods. And why not play “On the Steps of the Palace” on your mobile listening device while you wait in line to buy tickets to Sunset Boulevard?
16 — Hello, Dolly! (1964): Carol Channing, Mary Martin or Pearl Bailey? I say Martin’s the best of the three. Too bad, though, there’s no official recording of the last Dolly: Ethel Merman. The irony is that the musical originally written for her opened without her on her birthday.
17 — The Man Who Killed Lincoln (1940): Nobody who attended any of the play’s five performances would have believed that a half-century later someone would be writing songs for John Wilkes Booth. But Stephen Sondheim, creator of Assassins, isn’t just “someone.”
18 — Ragtime (1998): This is many people’s choice as The Last Great Broadway Musical. If you don’t have much time to spare, play the single disc version, but you really would be well-advised to make time for the stunning two-disc set.
19 — No, No, Nanette (1971): Here’s the show that truly started the vogue for revivals – which spurred the original producer to give us Irene, too. In case you can’t find Walter Kerr’s rave about Helen Gallagher’s “Too Many Rings around Rosie,” you’ll understand his enthusiasm once you hear it for yourself.
20 — The Ritz (1975): Rita Moreno won a Tony for playing the tone-deaf Googie Gomez, whose rendition of “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” must be heard to be believed. (Happily, it’s hilariously preserved on the 1976 film version.) Needless to say, Ethel Merman and Angela Lansbury did it better.
21 — Little Me (1982): This was the first Broadway revival for this 1962 Neil Simon-Cy Coleman-Carolyn Leigh laugh-fest. It was re-conceived – or shall we say misconceived? No album exists, but you’re better off with the original, on which you’ll hear another Zsa Zsa reference. (There’s one in Flower Drum Song, too, but hold that until December 1.)
22 — Porgy and Bess (1942): This first revival of the Gershwin masterpiece proved that indeed it was a masterpiece which too many didn’t realize from its original 1935 production. Without this one to spur public consciousness, we might not have ever got the phenomenal three-disc set from the 1976 Houston Grand Opera.
23 — Lady in the Dark (1941): Some songs – but not all – emerged during the ‘40s and ‘50s, but not until 1963 did we get as close to a full recording as an LP could accommodate.
24 — The Happy Time (1950): Oh, you made a mistake, some of you are saying. The Happy Time didn’t open until 1968. Well, that’s when the musical debuted, but the play on which it was based opened on this date eighteen years earlier. Without it, we wouldn’t have had one of Kander and Ebb’s best scores.
25 — 90 in the Shade (1915): It’d be great to hear this Jerome Kern score, but given that we can’t, why not turn up the temperature twenty degrees and hear a fine Harvey Schmidt-Tom Jones work that they gave us forty-eight years later?
26 — Green Grow the Lilacs (1931): The sixty-four performance flop proved that you don’t have to base a musical on a hit play to have a smash-hit musical – at least not when Rodgers and Hammerstein are doing the writing for – need I add? – Oklahoma!
27 — Darling of the Day (1968): I’ll have a lot more to say about this near-masterpiece as we get closer to its forty-ninth anniversary, but for now, give a listen and you’ll find yourself somewhere between charmed and overwhelmed with delight.
28 – Sarafina! (1988): Protesting the entire Soweto police force – a particularly strong one in South Africa – couldn’t have been easy for teenaged Sarafina, but she wouldn’t stand for police violence. An unlikely candidate for a musical, yes, but Mbongeni Ngema and Hugh Masekela met the challenge.
29 — Sweet Charity (1966): Celebrate the show’s fifty-first anniversary by at least hearing Gwen Verdon sing “In my flag, you’re the fif-fifty-first star.”
30 — Three Men on a Horse (1935): When Sam Levene opened this farce, he couldn’t have imagined that he’d be playing the same role twenty-six years later in Let It Ride!
31 — Frankly, I can’t find anything relevant for this date. But it doesn’t matter – you’re probably still listening to the three-disc Porgy and Bess.
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.