Most of the theatergoers who attended Hey, Look Me Over! at Encores! last week told me that they had a great time. Well, what’s not to like, with songs from vintage Broadway musicals? Most of them were from the ‘60s, a few from the ‘50s and ‘70s and a grand finale from 1904.
In case you weren’t there, Masterworks Broadway can help you recreate much of the concert, for the company purveys several of the shows’ original cast albums.
Blazing trumpets began the night with Cy Coleman’s music in the Overture from Wildcat. It starts, of course, with “Hey, Look Me Over!” before segueing into the title song. Then, to quote Tulsa in Gypsy, “Strings come in” when “You’ve Come Home” is featured. The banjo-rollicking “What Takes My Fancy” and the plaintive “One Day We Dance” follow before teasing into “Hey, Look Me Over!” which then provides a rousing finish. And to think that this song, easily the score’s biggest hit, was one of the last to be written.
In this concert Carolee Carmello did the honors and did it proud. That said, if you check the spines of original cast albums on CD, you almost always simply see the name of the show and nothing else. However, “Lucille Ball in Wildcat” is what you’ll find on this recording. First things first.
Wildcat is all about the oil that the men of Centavo City hope will pour forth. Hence, “Oil!” the show’s opening number – and Hey, Look Me Over’s! too.
The second musical featured was All American, Charles Strouse and Lee Adams’ next show after their Bye Bye Birdie. Twenty-four years before Strouse would write some ragtime for Rags, he wrote “Melt Us,” a toe-tapping ragtime melody for optimistic immigrants. It paved the way for Ray Bolger’s star entrance – and his exclaiming “What a Country!”
(Upon hearing this one, many in the audience might have said, “Gee, that sounds like an AMTRAK commercial of a few decades ago.” Indeed Strouse’s melody was the railroad company’s theme song in the mid-‘70s and beyond.)
The big hit from All American — “Once Upon a Time” – was included. For the record, Strouse and Adams actually wrote it for a revue called What’s the Rush? that played Long Island in 1956. Nothing else happened with the revue; happily, that was not the case with “Once Upon a Time.” Wikipedia lists fifty-two artists who recorded it once upon a time, and here’s betting there have been plenty more.
Of the nine musicals represented in HEY, LOOK ME OVER! Jamaica was the most successful. It was a genuine hit – which, in Broadway terms, only means a show that paid back its investment. A long run isn’t a criterion, although Jamaica ran a then-robust 555 performances, the most of any musical in Hey, Look Me Over!).
Good reviews alone don’t make a hit, although three critics raved about Jamaica. Truth to tell, though, their plaudits mostly went to Lena Horne, who dominates the cast album by singing nearly half the songs. Encores! chose “Ain’t It the Truth?” and “Push De Button,” which have great Harold Arlen melodies and sharp E.Y. Harburg lyrics (were there ever any other kind from these two?). I won’t argue with the two selections, but “Napoleon” and “I Don’t Think I’ll End It All Today” would have been worth celebrating, too.
Milk and Honey only ran twelve performances fewer than Jamaica, but was not a commercial hit. Jerry Herman once said to me “The book was written by a man named Don Appell.” I may be reading into this quotation but his using the generic “a man” suggests to me that Herman didn’t think much of Appell as a writer.
Neither did the critics, although they liked Herman’s music and lyrics for the first Broadway musical set in Israel. Thus Herman immediately set an Israeli mood with “Shalom,” which is, in his words, “the nicest greeting you know.” The tender waltz is indeed a nice introduction to the cast album.
“Independence Day Hora” made for a joyous production number and then came the title song. It was of course meant as a hymn to Israel, but it’s such a rouser that the nun who taught music at our Catholic high school had us learn it and sing it often.
Greenwillow is currently out-of-print, but Heart and Soul: Celebrating the Unforgettable Songs of Frank Loesser at least allows you to hear one of four songs chosen for the concert: “Never Will I Marry.” Here it was sung by Vic Damone, whom we lost last week. But this cut – and 2,500 other of his recordings, live on.
Anthony Perkins, Greenwillow’s star, might well have agreed. He was always embarrassed by his performance on the cast album, and often explained that he had had a cold on the day of the recording. Perkins hated his performance so much that he went on a singular mission to make certain that as few people as possible would hear the cast album by going into record stores, purchasing copies and then giving them to his agent Helen Merrill to store.
(In 1973, I visited Merrill in her office and asked if this story were true. She walked to her closet, opened the door and showed me a pile of Greenwillows that wasn’t as high as a weeping willow but would have made many a Broadway collector weep, for Greenwillow was then long out-of-print. Sad that history has repeated itself.)
What else could have been the finale for Hey, Look Me Over! but “Give My Regards to Broadway”? Original cast albums wouldn’t be made in earnest for nearly four decades after Little Johnny Jones opened on Nov. 7, 1904, but the song was included in George M! — a 1968 retrospective (which is a classier term than “jukebox musical,” don’t you think?).
The show originally starred Joel Grey as George M. Cohan – who made two wonderful cameo appearances to give his regards to Hey, Look Me Over! Fifty years have passed, but you can still hear him on the original cast album.
So this is the best Masterworks Broadway can do for all those who missed the concert. And if you can’t get to New York for the next Encores! from March 21-25 to see Grand Hotel – my favorite American musical from the ‘80s – Masterworks Broadway can help you again through the show’s cast album.
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.