Granted, hearing most any song with music by Richard Rodgers and lyrics by Lorenz Hart is a pleasure.
However, some theatergoers were disappointed to hear so many of them in the recent PAL JOEY at City Center.
The reason: Rodgers and Hart’s songs from other properties were shoved into what had been a PAL JOEY score. Fifteen in all were heard.
And how many remained from the PAL JOEY that had opened in 1940?
Eight and only eight.
Many theatergoers felt that, despite what that TV series of yore insisted, eight was not enough.
Four of the musical interlopers came from BABES IN ARMS: “I Wish I Were in Love Again,” “The Lady Is a Tramp,” “My Funny Valentine” and “Where or When.”
Three originated in THE BOYS FROM SYRACUSE: “Falling in Love with Love,” “Sing for Your Supper” and “This Can’t Be Love.”
There’s no argument that they’re all great songs. If you need a refresher course on them, the former musical received a nifty (if abridged) studio cast album with Mary Martin and Jack Cassidy; the latter, with an almost-full score, also has Cassidy on tap.
Among the others in this recent airing was the jaunty “Everything I’ve Got” from BY JUPITER. This last Rodgers and Hart collaboration opened in 1942, ten months before Rodgers and Hammerstein’s first collaboration: Oklahoma! – the first musical to get a real, honest-to-goodness, original Broadway cast album. Not until a quarter-century later did any recording of BY JUPITER materialize, thanks to a 1967 off-Broadway revival.
(Fun fact: Fred Ebb, fresh from reading raves for his lyrics for CABARET, did the revisions for this version.)
Anyone who wants to hear what PAL JOEY was really like way-back-when should start with the studio cast album made in September 1950.
It truly made history.
People say things like that all the time, but in this case, it’s no exaggeration. In the late 1940s, Columbia Records producer Goddard Lieberson decided to record Broadway musicals that had been mounted too early for the cast album era. One that he and musicologist-conductor Lehman Engel chose was PAL JOEY.
Of the multiple recordings that they made (including the aforementioned two with Cassidy), this would be the only one that boasted a member from the original cast: Vivienne Segal, who in 1940 had created the role of Vera Prentiss Simpson, the aging socialite who’s hardly a housewife. She’s even less of a wife, although she does spend plenty of time in one room of the house with opportunist Joey Evans.
Lieberson couldn’t get the original Joey, for Gene Kelly was much too busy with his Hollywood career. So, Lieberson chose Harold Lang.
(Joey is a song-and-dance man, and Lang had starred two years earlier in LOOK, MA I’M DANCIN’. He was also the original Bill in KISS ME, KATE.)
The recording was released February 12, 1951. It was such a sensation by that summer that producer Gus Schirmer got a just-starting-out Bob Fosse and Carol Bruce, so good in the 1946 SHOW BOAT (give a listen!), to star in a stock tour.
According to Ken Bloom in his book Show and Tell: The New Book of Broadway Anecdotes, Schirmer invited composer Jule Styne to see a performance in hopes that Styne would co-produce it with him. Styne was impressed but didn’t sign on with Schirmer; he got the rights and produced it on his own.
(So much for Irving Berlin’s contention about show business that “Everything about it is appealing.”)
By this time, the PAL JOEY album was selling so well that Styne wanted Vivienne Segal and Harold Lang to do the revival.
(How bad could Fosse have been? In the late spring of 1963, he played Joey at City Center. Although that theater isn’t officially eligible for Tony Awards, the committee the following year just had to give him a nomination.)
The 1952 revival received a substantially stronger reception than it had 11 years earlier. A fifteen-month run made it not only the longest of any Rodgers and Hart show, but also then the longest-running revival in Broadway history.
The most famous turnaround came from New York Times critic Brooks Atkinson. His first review concluded with the still-quoted “Can you draw sweet water from a foul well?” For the revival, he wrote, “There was a minority, including this column, that was not enchanted.”
(Note that he chose the words “this column” as an easier way to apologize than saying “I was wrong.”)
“No one is likely now to be impervious,” Atkinson continued, “to the liveliness and versatility of the score and the easy perfection of the lyrics.”
You bet. Too bad that so much of that score was missing at City Center.
Not that adaptors Tony Goldwyn and Savion Glover dared to drop “I Could Write a Book” or “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered.” These two songs that have received dozens of records from pop and jazz artists for the last 83 years just had to be included.
“I Could Write a Book” has smarmy, minor-league entertainer Joey Evans meet Nice Girl Linda English. Because she’s there and female, he sees her as an opportunity for a very different kind of late, late show.
We understand why Linda is entranced after having Joey sing one of Rodgers’ most beautiful melodies. Who wouldn’t be?
“Bewitched” goes to Vera, a Not-So-Nice-Former-Girl who’s bedded Joey. Now she already has second thoughts. Vera does quickly dispense them in this song, sensing she could be headed for trouble. She’ll take her chances, though, letting us see that she’s more bewitched than bothered or bewildered.
Yes, those two had to be retained. But did these two have to be dropped?
“In Our Little Den of Iniquity” has Joey and Vera in an apartment away from her husband. (Guess who paid for it.)
Now she and Joey can cavort without worrying about hearing a door open and a masculine voice state, “Honey, I’m home.” Hart did establish that the digs has two bedrooms, but lest we get the impression that there’s nothin’ dirty goin’ on, Vera admits, “There’s one for play, and one for show.”
A greater loss was “Take Him.”Could it be that Sondheim, even from the grave, had a hand in it being dropped?
On April 23, 1973, Newsweek did a cover story on Sondheim called “Broadway’s Music Man.” That had to please him, given that so many people preferred his lyrics to his music, which he felt was quite worthy.
Sondheim was asked his opinions of Broadway lyricists and didn’t show admiration for Lorenz Hart. He cited a false accent in “Take Him”: “I know a movie executive who’s twice as bright,” Hart wrote, as opposed to “I know a movie executive who’s twice as bright,” which is the way we’d say it when speaking (which is what Sondheim always preferred).
That aside, this is a terrific number in which Linda and Vera meet for the first time. You might expect the rivals to engage in a musical catfight; not at all. Aside from a quick reprise of “Bewitched” that follows, this is the musical’s final number, and by now, both women have come to realize that they’d be better off without Joey.
Perhaps they should flip a coin – and the loser gets Joey.
As for losers and winners, history will decide whether the 1940-slash- 1952 version of PAL JOEY is superior or inferior to the 2023 edition. But plenty of people have already made their choice and wish they could have said to Goldwyn and Glover early on, “You Mustn’t Kick It Around.”
Peter Filichia can be heard most weeks of the year on www.broadwayradio.com. His new book – BRAINTEASERS FOR BROADWAY GENIUSES – is now available on Amazon and at The Drama Book Shop.