Did you know that in 1961, March 27th was established as World Theatre Day?
Sad to say, this year there was much less theater in the world. Until this situation rights itself, we’ll be armchair listeners to get our world theater fix.
So start THE GRAND TOUR with Jerry Herman’s 1979 musical. Given the song “For Poland,” you might infer that it takes place there. No. Although both Jacobowsky and Colonel Tadeusz Stjerbinsky hail from there, they’re in occupied Paris during World War II. Can they get to London?
Having an easier time traveling between the two cities is Captain Henry St. James (in OH CAPTAIN!) who has a woman in each port. Tony Randall starred, and decades later still remembered what the dance critic for the Herald-Tribune said: “When Mr. Randall dances, he tortures the air.” Well, listening allows you to avoid that. Besides, a musical with Susan Johnson is a must.
No fewer than 155 songs about Paris have appeared in Broadway musicals – including the ones that spell the city “Paree.” You know the big hits (a la “I Love Paris”). Now experience lesser-known but nevertheless excellent songs as “Paris through the Window” (A CLASS ACT), “Paris Is Paris Again” (GIGI), “There Is Only One Paris for That” (IRMA LA DOUCE), “Melodie de Paris” (PHANTOM) and “Paris Loves Lovers” (SILK STOCKINGS).
Despite its title, JACQUES BREL IS ALIVE AND WELL AND LIVING IN PARIS offers no songs about the city. It will take you to “Amsterdam” and “Brussels.” (Truth to tell, Brel didn’t write about Amsterdam but Antwerp; however, translators Eric Blau and Mort Shuman chose it because it sang better in English.)
AN AMERICAN IN PARIS gives you nearly thirteen minutes of Gershwin’s eighteen-minute-plus orchestral piece along with fifteen other Gershwinners.
THE BOY FRIEND doesn’t praise France’s most famous city, for it believes “It’s Nicer in Nice.” Yet this Julie Andrews-starrer was a quintessentially British concoction. No surprise: England loves musical theater as much as America, so plenty of its shows – and ours – are set there. Whether you play THE SECRET OF ADRIAN MOLE (theirs) or THE SECRET GARDEN (ours), you can visit there.
“London is a Little Bit of All Right,” as Tessie O’Shea sang in her Tony-winning performance in THE GIRL WHO CAME TO SUPPER. That’s true, although SWEENEY TODD has “The Worst Pies in London” in one of the best Broadway scores).
London is also the setting for THE WHO’S TOMMY, but the piece of music that may thrill you the most won’t mention that metropolis –
meaning that magnificent Overture, of course.
Gwen Verdon played a Londoner in REDHEAD and, atypically, a Nice Girl. All her other roles were women of questionable virtue. REDHEAD had her worrying that she’d become that thankfully-now-archaic unfortunate term: An Old Maid. Before all is said and sung, however, “Look Who’s in Love” – with Richard Kiley, who won a Tony as Verdon did (she for the fourth time).
BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM mostly takes place in Southall, the Indian section of London. That doesn’t keep “Bend It” from being a nice bossa nova. END OF THE RAINBOW, although centered on Judy Garland (portrayed by Tracie Bennett, in a most extraordinary performance) takes place in London, too, where the former Ms. Gumm took her swan song.
The felicitous ERNEST IN LOVE – the IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST musical – has Londoner Mr. Worthing calling himself “Ernest in town and Jack in the country.” Join him in the latter spot for many musical opportunities.
Hertforshire awaits in FIRST IMPRESSIONS, the 1958 musical version of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. Here’s another way to rediscover Jane Austen. Your opinion of this show will probably mirror what Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy sing to each other: “I Suddenly Find It Agreeable.”
JANE EYRE, another classic British novel, was musicalized in 2000 and has a thrilling eleven o’clocker. In these times when we must all be brave, here’s “Brave Enough to Love.”
Visit Hampton Court (without shelling out the equivalent of twenty-eight bucks, as has been the recent admission price) where REX is set. Of the Rodgers-Harnick efforts in this Henry VIII musical, there’s no song more pleasing than their opening song.
(It’s called “No Song More Pleasing.”)
Henry VIII was King of England but Edmund Kean was later called “King of London” for being that good an actor. Learn that a theater’s merchandise counter isn’t a recent innovation; the enchanting opening song of this 1961 musical tells us that people could buy pictures of Kean for a “Penny Plain, Twopence Colored.”
The newest score set in England? Drewe and Styles’ THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS. Hear why these collaborators who enhanced MARY POPPINS are among the most valuable of our current crop of musical theater writers.
Move over to Ireland where THE PIRATE QUEEN sailed. Grania wants you to know she’s a “Woman,” and recent Tony-winner Stephanie J. Block will assure you that she is. Quite a woman, too, is the title character of JUNO, who chastises her errant husband most amusingly in “Old Sayin’s.”
During THE GRAND TOUR, The Colonel makes a stop in Germany to see his “Marianne,” as one of Herman’s nicest ballads tells us. Stop along with him and stay at the GRAND HOTEL, which has one of Broadway’s greatest showstoppers: “We’ll Take a Glass Together.”
That musical shows people in trouble in 1928, but that’s a better time than those in CABARET experienced a few years later. If you only know the 1966 musical’s almost-Oscar-winning 1972 film, you’re missing the excised “Sitting Pretty,” which shows that The Kit Kat Klub’s Emcee saw little reason to worry.
And in Frankfurt, Germany, THE ROTHSCHILDS offers one of the best numbers ever written out-of-town: Bock and Harnick’s “He Tossed a Coin.” It shows how Mayer Rothschild started on the road to fame and fortune.
Get to Spain through MAN OF LA MANCHA. The 2002 revival cast album gives “Aldonza” the real final and frank couplet that the original recording was too demure to use. Spend a few minutes in “Rome” through BRAVO GIOVANNI and its Tony-nominated score, and then Monaco, which HAPPY HUNTING reiterates is a “Postage Stamp Principality.” The philatelic image exaggerates, but Monaco is literally smaller than Hoboken.
Yet it doesn’t seem small when Ethel Merman arrives. Don’t you doubt that she’ll get her daughter an invitation to The Wedding of the Year – 1956, that is – between Prince Rainier and Grace Kelly.
With A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, choose between Sweden (via the original cast album) or Austria (through the soundtrack). No –
play them both to see how Sondheim surpassed his stage version of “The Glamorous Life” with the one for the film.
Many musicals take to you to Greece (although GREASE is not one of them). ZORBA, Kander and Ebb’s fourth musical, starts off there, but then goes to Crete. Zorba reveals his philosophy in “The First Time.” Hear it for the first time or the umpteenth; it’s that good.
Four musicals in ancient Greece are noteworthy. Rodgers and Hart had two hits there. THE BOYS FROM SYRACUSE took place in Ephesus, but the marvelous “Dear Old Syracuse” tells us which location the songwriters preferred.
In their final collaboration, R&H did well by BY JUPITER, especially with “Jupiter Forbid.” (Ever notice that Fred Ebb worked on the 1967 revival?)
THE HAPPIEST GIRL IN THE WORLD and HEAD OVER HEELS couldn’t be less alike: Offenbach posthumously provided the former score (with delicious E.Y. Harburg lyrics) and The Go-Go’s contributed to the latter. Its insistence that “Heaven Is a Place on Earth” may be hard to believe these days, but the song remains solid.
Europe is only one of the six continents for musical locales. (Antarctica? Oh, please!) In Asia we have two different looks at India. CHRISTINE is a 1960 near-operetta while BOMBAY DREAMS gives a 21st century Bollywood perspective.
Get a “Welcome to Kanagawa” – Japan, that is – in PACIFIC OVERTURES. See what Sondheim got to rhyme with “kimono.”
South America, take it away via EVITA and Argentina. Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice didn’t know when they wrote “And the Money Kept Rolling In (and Out)” that the title could serve as a chapter title in either of their biographies.
A South American location 4,400 miles away made for a less successful musical, but you can make a worthy trip and “Come to Colombia” and the river known as MAGDALENA. Both countries are part of Latin America, where KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN is set. Wherever you are, hearing Chita Rivera sing “Where You Are” will lift your spirits.
South Africa also offers two musicals with little in common. THE ZULU AND THE ZAYDA meet in Johannesburg in 1965 with the latter zestfully believing that “It’s Good to Be Alive.” A half-hour away and a decade later, matters are much more serious through Soweto Riots. SARAFINA! shows how some victims came out of it also realizing that it’s good to be alive.
(Maybe the two have more in common, after all.)
Yet your most valuable trip may be to London through MRS. HENDERSON PRESENTS. It tells of a theater that stays open in troubled times. We’re already looking forward to the first one of ours that will do that.