By Peter Filichia
While at Barnes & Noble to get Jeremy Aufderheide’s How the Wiz Was, my eye fell on Stephen Covey’s best-seller The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
Well, a little bit of self-help never hurt anybody, so I picked it up and skimmed. Habit One deals with “moving from dependence to independence” – which of course made me think of John Adams in 1776. “Be proactive,” Covey advises here – which Adams certainly does in “But Mr. Adams,” easily one of Sherman Edwards’ best songs.
Lead characters in musicals usually are proactive, aren’t they? In Kiss Me, Kate Petruchio knows what he wants: “I’ve Come to Wive It Wealthily in Padua.” Oscar Jaffee of On the Twentieth Century fame is a man you just can’t keep down even when he’s not only down but also out. “I Rise Again,” he promises in John Cullum’s Tony-winning performance. We’ll see how Peter Gallagher does with the song in the upcoming revival, but until we do, Cullum’s will serve nicely.
Yes, when Little Me’s Belle Poitrine first sings “On the Other Side of the Tracks,” she does it wistfully and ethereally, but once she learns what she must do to land Noble Eggelston, the tempo becomes brisk as her eye is on the narrow goal of getting her man.
Not everyone in A Little Night Music seems to know what he or she wants, but Petra certainly does: “I shall marry the miller’s son.” Although she does fantasize about the Prince of Wales and other luminaries, she knows the realities; “The Miller’s Son” it shall be, in a song beautifully delivered on the original cast album by D’Jamin Bartlett. (And take it from someone who saw A Little Night Music’s first-ever performance in Boston, we’re lucky the very proactive Harold Prince had Bartlett eventually take over the role from the lass who’d done it that night.)
Covey’s Habit Two is to “Begin with the End in Mind,” to “envision what you want in the future so that you know concretely what to make a reality.” That could almost be The Baker’s Wife’s lyric in “Maybe They’re Magic” midway through the first act of Into the Woods.
The 19th century fortune-hunters in Paint Your Wagon don’t quite meet that requirement. “Where am I goin’? I don’t know,” they sing. “Where’m I headin’? I ain’t certain. All that I know is” – and here comes the title — “I Am on My Way.” All right, they don’t have direction, but Lerner and Loewe gave them a rollicking opening number that makes us believe they’ll find it.
Much more focused is Warren, Daisy Gamble’s ostensible boyfriend in On a Clear Day You Can See Forever. Although the two are both in their twenties, Warren can’t “Wait Till We’re Sixty-Five” because he’ll get a “guaranteed income, house with a view, doctors and nurses (surgery too) — everything paid for.” How my teenage friends and I laughed in scorn at this song when the show opened in 1965. Now we realize that Warren was much smarter than we.
Bill in Over Here! has a more immediate goal. Before he ships out to fight in World War II, he hopes his girlfriend will give him the carnal tenderness he’s been trying to get for months. June’s take on the matter? “My dream for tomorrow is to keep what I have today.” Bill’s a good sport about it – after all, he was living in the era when “Nice Girls Didn’t” – so the two do what musical theater offers instead of sex: dance. For those who only know the Sherman Brothers from their multi-syllabic and sugary songs, this jitterbug is far more sophisticated and much more fun.
Of course, no matter how carefully you plan and how centered you are on a goal, you may not be successful. Just ask the Titanic passengers who all determinedly sang “I Must Get on That Ship.” They were originally grateful, but weren’t they eventually sorry.
Habit Three says that “a manager must manage his own person.” The Pajama Game’s Hinesy does that splendidly in “Think of the Time I Save.” To him, shaving off seconds while shaving is worth it even if he must do it in bed which causes him to (you should pardon the expression) wet the bed. But it’s all in the cause of time economy.
“Think Win-Win,” Covey says of Habit Four, and Eva Duarte of Evitawould certainly agree. She tells Juan Peron that “I’d Be Surprising Good for You” in one of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s most seductive-sounding songs. Tim Rice, who doesn’t always put the accent on the correct syllable, is pin-point perfect here when he has Eva stress the sixth word of “It seems crazy but you must believe” to open the song.
For years, Hubie Cram of Do Re Mi has been sidestepping the law, but now he’s found a new occupation and “It’s Legitimate.” That’s a cause for celebration, and who knew how to write merriment better than Betty Comden, Adolph Green and Jule Styne?
By the way, Hubie expects to walk the straight and narrow by selling jukeboxes. So, in a manner of speaking, we could call Do Re Mi the first jukebox musical. But let’s not use such a derogative term for a musical with an original and wonderful score (“Make Someone Happy” comes from it). The musical, which starred Phil Silvers and Nancy Walker, was the only one from the 1960-61 season that received unanimous raves from the seven daily critics.
Habit Five urges us to “Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood.” Covet wants us to be empathetic when listening to a person – not just for its own sake, but also so that the person will be more likely to return the empathy. Steve Canfield does that in Silk Stockings, when Ninotchka, a bastion of the Communist party, gives him her opinion about love: “It’s a Chemical Reaction, That’s All.” Steve waits patiently until she finishes before he tells her that he loves “All of You.” Actually, he doesn’t quite love “all,” for he can’t abide the way she adheres to the Soviet Union spirit and denies herself the nice pleasures of life. Those would, of course, include the Cole Porter score.
And what of Habit Six, which asks us to “Synergize” – meaning using the strengths of a group through positive teamwork to master goals than any one of the individuals in the pack couldn’t have done alone? That itself brings to mind “I Couldn’t Have Done It Alone” from All American.
Yes, you say, but that song has its tongue-in-cheek, for the point is that Edwin Bricker, once a scholar and now a football star, is making one of those acceptance speeches in which he’s merely pretending to be modest. All right then, how about “Brotherhood of Man” from How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying? Oh, yeah – that’s tongue-in-cheek, too. Granted, but it may very well be the best-ever 11 o’clock number in the history of musical theater, and that certainly counts for something.
You still object? Then let’s opt for Gypsy’s “Together, Wherever We Go.” At the risk of heresy, I’ll recommend the 1973 London recording with Angela Lansbury’s Rose, Zan Charisse’s Louise and Barrie Ingham’s Herbie over the 1959 Broadway cast album with Ethel Merman, Sandra Church and Jack Klugman. Nothing against them, of course, but their version of the song was terribly truncated for space in that LP era. You get all of Stephen Sondheim’s delicious (and one vicious) lyric on the later recording.
Habit Seven — “Sharpen the Saw” — is meant metaphorically. What Cover really urges is that readers balance and renew their resources, energy, and health which will lead to a long life. Given that Covey mentions exercise as a part of it, we can be influenced by Josephus Gage of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes fame, who is far less interested in blondes and brunettes than he is in barbells (which may make him a bit of a dumbbell) In the original production, future Broadway legend and Tony-winner George S. Irving did the honors in singing “I’m A’Tingle, I’m A’Glow” as a result of exercise (and roughage), while Stephen R. Buntrock had the chance to recreate it in the 2012 Encores! edition.
How I wish that The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People had made room for another concept that seems to be sorely missing. You can hear it on the Goodtime Charley cast album when Joel Grey sings “Why Can’t We All Be Nice?”
Peter Filichia also writes a column each Friday at www.mtishows.com and www.kritzerland.com. His upcoming book The Great Parade: Broadway’s Astonishing, Never-to-Be Forgotten 1963-1964 Season is now available for pre-order at www.amazon.com.