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Parenthetically Speaking

Parenthetically Speaking

By Peter Filichia —

Even before I started listening to Musical Comedy Favorites by Andre Kostelanetz, I was intrigued by the song listing.

You do know Kostelanetz, don’t you? He was an orchestra leader (1901-1980) who liked to go heavy on strings and provided much “easy listening” long before that term came into being. His lush approach made him so famous that he was even mentioned in Bajour; Lou MacNiall told his would-be girlfriend Emily that love “isn’t something on a pink cloud with music by Kostelanetz.”

So here’s a newly remastered album of Broadway songs that Kostelanetz recorded in the ‘40s. They range from “A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody” from Ziegfeld Follies of 1919 all the way to “All the Things You Are” from Very Warm for May in 1939.

But what fascinated me about the liner notes is the way that Roberta’s most famous song is listed. It isn’t just “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” but literally “(When Your Heart’s on Fire) Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.” And indeed, once I saw it cited as that, I did recall seeing a long-ago piece of sheet music where the Jerome Kern-Otta Harbach classic was so named.

I’m always fascinated by the use of parentheses in song titles. Sometimes they’re used to complete a phrase, as was the case here: “(Here’s) a Kiss for Cinderella” [Of Thee I Sing]. “(Who, Who, Who, Who) Who Is She?” [The Apple Tree]. “(I Was Born Under a) Wand’rin’ Star” [Paint Your Wagon]. “(The Legend of) Miss Baltimore Crabs” [Hairspray]. “(Ya Got) Trouble” [The Music Man]. “(You’re Just) What I Was Warned About” [Make a Wish]. “(You’re the) Devil in Disguise” [All Shook Up].

Sometimes parentheses complete a phrase, albeit not at the beginning of the song, but at the end: “Always True to You (In My Fashion)” [Kiss Me, Kate]. “Don Jose (of Far Rockaway)” [Wish You Were Here]. “Find Out What They Like (and How They Like It)” [Ain’t Misbehavin’]. “A Hell of a Hole (A Hell of a Fix)” [Let ‘Em Eat Cake]. “In Our Little Den (of Iniquity)” [Pal Joey]. “Move (You’re Steppin’ on My Heart)” [Dreamgirls].“It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)” [Swing!]. “Next to Lovin’ (I Like Fightin’)” [Shenandoah]. “Posterity (Is Just Around the Corner)” [Of Thee I Sing]. “Whatever Lola Wants (Lola Gets)” [Damn Yankees]. “Who Can I Turn To (When Nobody Needs Me)?” [The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd]. “You Can Be as Loud as the Hell You Want (When You’re Makin’ Love)” [Avenue Q].

Of all these tagalong parenthetical titles, the championship trophy easily goes to the three songs with the same melody that Jay Livingston and Ray Evans gave Tony Randall in Oh, Captain!: “Life Does a Man a Favor (When It Gives Him Simple Joys),” “Life Does a Man a Favor (When It Leads Him Down to the Sea)” and “Life Does a Man a Favor (When It Puts Him in Paree).”

Then there are such songs as “All the Livelong Day (I Hear America Singing)” [Working]. “The Apple Tree (Forbidden Fruit)” [The Apple Tree]. “The Flesh Failures (Let The Sun Shine In)” [Hair]. “Hurrah! Hurroo!” (I Had Twins)” [The Boys from Syracuse]. “The Impossible Dream (The Quest)” and “Man of La Mancha (I, Don Quixote)” [Man of La Mancha]. “Maxim’s (Girls, Girls, Girls)” [The Merry Widow]. “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)” [Movin’ Out]. “Nordraak’s Farewell (Springtide)” [Song of Norway]. “Pal Joey (What Do I Care For A Dame?)” [Pal Joey]. “To Each His Dulcinea (To Every Man His Dream)” [Man of La Mancha]. “Who Could Ask For Anything More? (I’m About to Be a Mother)” [Of Thee I Sing]. These parenthetical add-ons suggest that the songwriters couldn’t make up their mind what phrase in the song should get the honor of being the title. So they showed you their first choice – meaning the one NOT in parentheses – and their runner-up – meaning the one IN parentheses.

That brings us to “The Crap Game Dance (Crapshooter’s Dance)” in Guys and Dolls. Guess Frank Loesser couldn’t decide what to call that one, either. But often dance numbers are parenthetically explained as to what they exactly are: “Halloween (Ballet)” [A Tree Grows in Brooklyn]. “Pimp’s Ballad (Tango)” [The Threepenny Opera]. “The Yo Ho Ho (Pirate Dance)” [How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying].

Similar to these are the song titles where we get a description of what the song is: “Dr. Lucy (The Doctor Is In)” [You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown]. “I Don’t Know (The Letter)” [The Most Happy Fella]. “Paula (An Improvised Love Song)” [The Goodbye Girl]. “T.E.A.M. (The Baseball Game)” [You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown]. “There’ll Always Be a Lady Fair (Sailor’s Chantey)” [Anything Goes]. “Yasni Kozkolai (Carpathian National Anthem)” [The Girl Who Came to Supper].

Sometimes overtures even get their own names, which demand parenthetical explanations: “Opening (Runyonland)” [Guys and Dolls]. Over Here! began Act One with “The Beat Begins (Overture),” and had Act Two commence with “The Beat Continues (Entr’acte).” The Who’s Tommy was just as clever; after intermission it offered its patrons “Underture (Entr’acte).”

And then there are the finales, which can either have the word “finale” as the end parenthetical expression “Chitty Flies Home (Finale)” [Chitty Chitty Bang Bang] or the reverse: “Finale (On That Matter No One Budges)” [Of Thee I Sing]. And speaking of finales, this’d be a good place to end. (Wouldn’t it?)

Peter Filichia also writes a column each Monday, Wednesday and Friday at;. His new book Broadway Musicals: The Biggest Hit & the Biggest Flop of the Season, 1959-2009 is now available through Applause Books and at