When you were in grammar school, were your required to memorize “October’s Party”?
The poem, by 19th century bard George Cooper, started:
“October gave a party;
The leaves by hundreds came.
The Chestnuts, Oaks and Maples,
And leaves of every name.
The Sunshine spread a carpet,
And everything was grand.
Miss Weather led the dancing,
Professor Wind the band …”
It went on like that for sixteen more lines. Teachers loved it because it taught personification – “the attribution of human characteristics to something nonhuman,” as that book by Mr. Webster tells us.
Grammar school memories die hard, so I think of “October’s Party” every time the month begins. My living in New York City precludes my seeing many colorful wonders as those of you who actually live among those “Chestnuts, Oaks and Maples.” So my October party has me listening to the marvelous musical theater songs that reference parties. And while I’m at it, I wind up listening to the entire scores from which they come, for they all offer many charms.
With an introduction such as that, you know that Andrew Lippa’s THE WILD PARTY is going to be mentioned. So, let’s start the month with his pulsating “A Wild, Wild Party.”
The party must be a wild, wild one to spur such a dynamic song as “An Old-Fashioned Love Story.” It’s done by the inimitable Alix Korey who makes Ethel Merman sound like Baby Louise. When I attended THE WILD PARTY‘s off-Broadway premiere in 2000, I knew fourteen seconds into the song that I’d soon be wildly, wildly applauding.
Three minutes and twenty-nine seconds later, I indeed was.
“The Life of the Party” is another winner from THE WILD PARTY. But it’s not to be confused with the song of the same name from THE HAPPY TIME, Kander and Ebb’s first musical of 1968. (Believe it or not, they had another that year, and it was equally superb: ZORBA.)
This song features David Wayne, the first-ever person to win a Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Musical. He was the original Og in FINIAN’S RAINBOW, where he got to sing one of musical theater’s cleverest lyrics: “When I’m Not Near the Girl I Love (I Love the Girl I’m Near).”
(Well, the original production of FINIAN’S RAINBOW closed in October, so that gives me license to play that phenomenal score, too.)
But as for THE HAPPY TIME, Wayne, Robert Goulet and Michael Rupert join forces to do the show-stopping “A Certain Girl.” It’s one of those rare occasions where one performer had already won a Tony for a musical (Wayne), one would soon win a Tony for a musical (Goulet, for this very show) and one would win a Tony for a musical many years afterward (Michael Rupert, for SWEET CHARITY).
As time has gone on, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s PIPE DREAM – their shortest-running show — has become more and more appreciated. Among its pleasures is “The Party That We’re Gonna Have Tomorrow Night.” You might infer from listening to the entire album that it’s the Act Two opener, for it has that rollicking feeling that you want when you return from intermission. Actually, it’s the second song of the second act.
The obvious song from the score to play on October 3, 10, 17, 24 and 31 would be “Sweet Thursday.” One reason is that all those dates fall on Thursday this year; another is that it’s the brightest song of the bunch.
Next up would be “I’ve Been Invited to a Party” from THE GIRL WHO CAME TO SUPPER. What a history this property has had. Within ten years, it went from a Terence Rattigan a play (THE SLEEPING PRINCE, 1953) to a film (THE PRINCE AND THE SHOWGIRL, 1957) and to this musical in 1963.
For the movie, Marilyn Monroe played the showgirl, which must have been quite a different performance and interpretation from the one that Vivien Leigh gave in the play’s London premiere. Noel Coward, in writing the super SUPPER score, returned to an elegant approach when writing this waltz. Florence Henderson sang it six years before she became a lovely lady who was bringing up three very lovely girls.
Then there’s “Party Song” from THE NERVOUS SET. Why hasn’t this maverick musical been revived? Some may say “Well, because it ran all of twenty-three performances.”
At the time – 1959 — that short run couldn’t have surprised many Broadway observers. The show didn’t have the usual Philly-Boston-Baltimo’ tryout but started in a small St. Louis venue.
It should have stayed small, because the edgier-than-usual musical would have been more at home off-Broadway in Greenwich Village.
The Village is where much of it took place, for it dealt with the then-current counter-cultural predecessors to the hippies: the beatniks. After all these decades, audiences would now have fun either meeting or revisiting this short-lived phenomenon that began in the late forties and was pretty much gone by the early sixties.
Let’s see those men clad in black turtleneck sweaters, berets and dark glasses playing the bongos. Failing that, listen to this time-capsule thanks to an original cast album that miraculously materialized despite the short run.
GREASE takes place in 1959, too. Its “Rock ‘n’ Roll Party Queen” is a song that Elvis Presley might have sung then, but he had to leave it to Rydell High’s Roger and Doody.
Presley was much too otherwise engaged to record it, for he was then in Germany as SF4 Elvis A. Presley, serial number 53-310-761 in the United States Army.
(No Internet search reveals Conrad Birdie’s Army rank or serial number.)
Although HALF A SIXPENCE was a substantial London hit when it opened in 1963, it changed a bit for its Broadway production. During the Boston tryout, composer-lyricist David Heneker was asked to change his operetta-like finale for something more joyous. He went to work and came up with a dandy eleven o’clock number “The Party’s on the House.”
It did what such a number should do: blow the roof off the house. Except there WAS no roof on the house that the song was celebrating, because the dwelling hadn’t yet been built. That was the unique premise of the song.
Tommy Steele, in a performance that would have easily won a Tony in another year (nobody was beating Zero Mostel’s Tevye in 1965) was exuberantly planning for the future. Join in the celebration.
While this is ostensibly a revival of what was once Broadway’s longest-running musical — when 675 performances were enough to make you the champ — it was quite the revisal. Only four songs from the original were retained – including “The Last Part of Every Party.” Original composer Harry Tierney and lyricist Joseph McCarthy did have another of their songs represented – the fetching “Family Tree” – but others came from other songwriters of yore (“You Made Me Love You”) and then-up-and-comers (“The World Must Be Bigger Than an Avenue”). The latter was written by Wally Harper, who wrote a snazzy piece of dance music called “The Riviera Rage” that will make you dance in your living room where you’ll have a party all by yourself.
And what song should we all play on the first day of November? Well, “The Party’s Over” from BELLS ARE RINGING? “Ain’t No Party” from DREAMGIRLS? “I Went to a Marvelous Party” from COWARDY CUSTARD? All are logical choices.
And could you find three songs that are so markedly different? They, and all the ones cited above, are also something else. To borrow the adjective that George Cooper used for his October party: grand.