By Peter Filichia —
So this is the week we celebrate Groundhog Day, which has taken on a new and different meaning ever since that Bill Murray movie debuted in 1993. In case you’ve missed it – and I hope you haven’t – Murray portrays Phil Connors, a weatherman on a one-day assignment in Punxsutawney, PA. Of course he’s there to cover the ceremony in which a marmota monax will emerge to indicate a shorter or longer winter. But the day after Phil covers the ceremony, he awakes to find out he’s living that same day over again. Ditto the next day and the day after.
Sondheim was said to be interested in musicalizing the film. Don’t you wish he had? It would have been a good property for a man advanced in years, because he wouldn’t have had to write all that much music; so much of it would have had to repeat itself. Of course, it had better have been good, considering that we’d have to hear it over and over.
The film Groundhog Day began for Connors with the clock radio’s alarm clicking on at six a.m. and playing Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You, Babe.” How would you like to hear that song ever morning for the rest of your life?
I can certainly think of others I’d rather hear. What about you? Here’s what I’d pick if I had to hear the same songs day in, day out.
The sun comes up with “Sunshine Girl” from New Girl in Town or “Our Favorite Son” from The Will Rogers Follies. The former is a banjo-strummer, while the latter is a happy-go-lucky and invigorating polka that gets the dots out of my eyes. Equally good would be “Come Follow the Band” from Barnum, one of the great feel-good songs. I’d be nodding in agreement when I hear, “Oh, my – ain’t it drivin’ you crazy? Doncha be so darn lazy!” And I’d cease being lazy and would jump out of bed.
Next comes the coffee cup, which of course would mean “Coffee in a Cardboard Cup” from 70, Girls, 70. It’d be as good as a jolt of caffeine. Then “It’s Good to Be Alive” from The Zulu and the Zayda would remind me how true that is. How bad can life be if I’m hearing songs such as these?
The morning ends – but not before I hear such favorites as the title songs from The Happy Time and Do I Hear a Waltz? I love three-quarter time, so bring on “His Own Little Island” from Let It Ride! as well as “A Gift Today” from I Can Get It for You Wholesale, “No Song More Pleasing” from Rex and “My True Love” from the Phantom that Maury Yeston wrote. I’ll grant you that “Let’s See What Happens” from Darling of the Day may not thematically be such a good choice – given that I know what’s going to happen each and every day – but the song itself is so winning and beautiful that I’d have to include it among my daily favorites.
I talk to friends – which of course means that I really can’t listen to songs. Hearing words from speakers would be too jarring and confusing while talking. On the other hand, I could have on some lovely instrumental music if I played it softly enough. Ideal for a long chat would be the lovely bourrée called “Parade of the Animals” from Children of Eden. However, if I didn’t want to stay on the phone too long, I’d instead opt for either “Jump for Joy” from The Goodbye Girl or “The Riviera Rage” from Irene. Both are fun but frenetic enough to inspire me to get back to work.
All afternoon, doing every little chore, I would like to hear peppy songs that would keep me productive. “Melt Us” from All-American is a nifty rag. “It’s Legitimate” from Do Re Mi is a saucy production number. “Twentieth Century Love” from George M! has a pulsating middle section, and sounds more razz-ma-tazz than most George M. Cohan songs. I’ll admit that “Gawk, Tousle and Shucks” from How Now, Dow Jones would never appear on anyone’s list of the great show songs, but I’m always glad to hear it. It’s got a nifty ride-out, too – y’know, the music that the orchestrator conceived for the orchestra to play as the singer holds the last note. I’m telling you, all these would have me stand in the middle of the floor – just going left, just going right – while I would dance in time to all of them.
After a hard day at work, I dim the lights, which means it’s time for quiet music – such as “A Quiet Thing” from Flora, the Red Menace. The lovely ballad expresses Flora’s surprise at how happy moments need not be celebrated by having the drums go bang and the cymbals clang and the horns blazin’ away. Other soft sounds could be nicely had from “Use Your Imagination” from Out of This World, “I Never Know When to Say When” from Goldilocks, “Blame It on the Summer Night” from Rags and “Talking to Yourself” from Hallelujah, Baby! Oh, and let’s not forget “I Hear Bells” originally from an out-of-town closer called Love Match in 1968, but rescued thanks to Starting Here, Starting Now eight years later. It has to be one of the most beautiful songs ever written.
With songs such as these to enervate me each day, I’d spend sleepless nights just thinking of them – and plenty of others. I’d hope that from the apartment across the way the tenants would be playing “I Cannot Hear the City” from Sweet Smell of Success, “Money to Burn” from Half a Sixpence, “Everybody Loves to Take a Bow” from Hazel Flagg, “Staying Young” from Take Me Along, “Look Who’s Dancing” from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and “H-A-P-P-Y / We’ll Take a Glass Together” from Grand Hotel. That last one is the second-best production number I’ve seen in the fifty seasons I’ve been attending theater – eclipsed only by “Who’s That Woman?” from Follies – which I wouldn’t mind hearing a million times in a row, either.
Finally, I’d play “Each Tomorrow Morning” thanks to Angela Lansbury’s lovely rendition of it on the Dear World original cast album. What would be more appropriate to end this type of Groundhog Day than that? I’ll tell you what: “Yes” from the aforementioned 70, Girls, 70 – a song about grabbing the opportunities that come to us. It’s my all-time favorite show song.
One song that I wouldn’t want to have in the repertoire would be “Losing My Mind” from Follies. After all, being stuck in the same day and hearing that might very well have me believe that I was in fact losing my mind.
But, of course, none of us will experience the problems that Phil Connors did on Groundhog Day. We just get one day a year to celebrate it. So what song should we use to commemorate February 2? Why, haven’t you guessed? “Grand Old Ivy” from How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.
Peter Filichia also writes a column each Monday, Wednesday and Friday at www.theatermania.com/peterfilichia;. His new book Broadway Musicals: The Biggest Hit & the Biggest Flop of the Season, 1959-2009 is now available through Applause Books and at www.amazon.com.