I vehemently disagree with Little Red Riding Hood.
In INTO THE WOODS, the sadder-but-wiser girl decides that “Nice is different than good.”
I not only take issue with her grammar – “different from” is the proper term – but also with her philosophy.
At the very least, nice must be some part of good.
And so, on this October 5th and all October 5ths that follow, we should observe what has been established as “National Do Something Nice Day.” Let’s all perform acts that are nice and good.
The Dauphin in GOODTIME CHARLEY, embodied by Joel Grey, had it right when he sang “Why Can’t We All Be Nice?”
The spritely Larry Grossman melody and deft Hal Hackady lyrics are well worth catching. Don’t miss the latter’s clever wordplay involving two different meanings of “pages.” That said, the whole song scores mightily and just might inspire you to greater heights of niceness.
It’s not the only song in a musical that encourages us to be nice. Musicals are optimistic more often than not, so they’ve given us plenty of other songs to inspire us. To wit:
October is a month when temperatures go down, so depending on where you live, you might very well experience a “Nice Cold Mornin’,” as Shirley Jones and the kids did in MAGGIE FLYNN. So, during the early hours on such a day, bringing coffee and a few breakfast treats to a friend or neighbor would be oh-so-nice.
As soon as he or she opens the door, sing a few bars of “Nice Cold Mornin’.” If your beneficiary then sings “The Thank You Song” from the same musical, you’ll really know that you brought your treats to the right person.
Wouldn’t it be even nicer if, at the end of your breakfast, you were to both break out with the spirited Act One closer of IT’S A BIRD … IT’S A PLANE … IT’S SUPERMAN: “It’s Super Nice (to be with you).”
So nice, in fact, that you both might want to walk off the calories from the hearty meal. That’s when you can both sing (or at least hum or whistle) The Mad Hatter’s song in WONDERLAND: “A Nice Little Walk.”
Playing that Hatter in the original 2011 production was Kate Shindle, who took a nice little walk in 1998 when she was promoted from Miss Illinois to Miss America. Since 2015, Shindle has been walking the walk as president of Actors’ Equity.
(I do recall a wan little musical version of ALICE IN WONDERLAND some decades back where Alice met a man who introduced himself as The Mad Hatter – to which she responded, “Does anyone still wear a hat?” My friend Richard Norton and I let out such a gasp that the actress playing Alice actually broke character, looked out at us, gave us a semi-grimace and then shrugged a shoulder in an I-didn’t-write-this apology. Looking back on it now, I wish we had been nicer, but at least we weren’t seeing the show on October 5th.)
You don’t just have to stop at breakfast. Why not make a nice, home-cooked dinner for your good friends – and even have them bring their friends whom you don’t yet know? These people might well become your friends, too. If you know some tweens and teens who are as nice as “The Nicest Kids in Town” in HAIRSPRAY, invite them, too.
Get a few musicians to provide background music, and that just might make you and everyone else inclined to sing “A Terrific Band and a Real Nice Crowd,” best known as Dorothy Loudon’s dynamic opening number from BALLROOM. The title of that 1978 musical might well inspire everyone to dance. So, make sure your musicians know how to play “Dance with You” (THE PROM), “The Washington Twist” (MR. PRESIDENT) and “A New-Fangled Tango” (HAPPY HUNTING). After the meal is over, to those who don’t yet know the score to CAROUSEL (poor dears!), you can teach them to sing “A Real Nice Clambake,” even if you didn’t serve clams.
After everyone goes home and you have some time to decompress, listen to some nice songs, such as “A Very Nice Prince” from INTO THE WOODS. I’ve always liked to think that Stephen Sondheim subconsciously chose this title as a nice way of saying that even though he was no longer working with Harold Prince, he still thought very well of him.
Something livelier? Just from the title “It’s a Nice Place to Visit,” you can undoubtedly tell what the next seven words will be: “But I wouldn’t want to live there.”
That tired expression almost always refers to New York City and is said by people who don’t stay long enough to realize all the joys and advantages of being a resident.
By the way, in JIMMY, that’s not how the song was meant; instead, corrupt politicians sang it as they scooted out of town before they were indicted or imprisoned.
Lest songwriters Bill and Patti Jacob and librettist Melville Shavelson be accused of suggesting that one ethnic group was more unethical than another, they carefully named their irresponsible characters responsible characters Antonio Viscelli, Lawrence Horatio Fink, Francis Xavier Aloysius O’Toole, Stanislaus Kazimir Wojeciezkowski, and Warrington Brock – as well as one more of indeterminate origin: “Girl in Fur Coat.”
What’s also fun is the bleat that orchestrator Jack Andrews gave the brass to play right after the six sing “It’s a nice place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there.” The sound resembles one that’s heard on quiz shows after a contestant gives a wrong answer.
And if you’re a little too busy on October 5th to do something on National Do Something Nice Day, well, you could redeem yourself with a second chance on Nov. 11. That’s the birthday of Stubby Kaye, who in GUYS AND DOLLS originated the role of Nicely-Nicely.
Peter Filichia can be heard most weeks of the year on www.broadwayradio.com. His new book – BRAINTEASERS FOR BROADWAY GENIUSES – is now available on Amazon and at The Drama Book Shop.