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Feb
08

Isn’t It a Pity You’re a Seal?

Unusual love songs shouldn’t really be all that unusual. After all, any good lyricist will look to avoid clichés and try to find a way to write about this basic human need that is somehow fresh. A theatrical lyricist generally mines situation and character in order to arrive at an approach that doesn’t seem threadbare and sentimental. Here are 15 examples of what I would call unusual love songs.

“Me and My Town,” from Anyone Can Whistle
Venal Mayoress Cora Hoover Hooper is a narcissist par excellence in this absurdist Stephen Sondheim–Arthur Laurents musical, and in her introductory song we learn just how much love she needs from her constituents—and it’s a hell of a lot. Indeed, she even has four omnipresent backup boys to support her song and dance (both literal and figurative) who serve as a physical manifestation of the adoration she requires. I wonder if a set of backup boys might not bolster our current president just a tad. Or is that what Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Kellyanne Conway do?

“I Believe in You,” from How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
Cora needs the love of legions, but J. Pierpont Finch, a very ambitious window washer who longs to succeed in the cutthroat arena of corporate big business, only requires an audience of one: himself. In this cheeky Frank Loesser ballad, what would be conventional when sung to a lover becomes hilariously unusual when sung by Finch to his own face in a men’s room mirror while shaving. Robert Morse’s delight with himself lit up the stage like a supernova, and the corporate men plotting against him while also shaving (Loesser employed kazoos to marvelous effect) added slyly to the joke. The scene is not as successful in the film adaptation, though, because Michele Lee, as the secretary Rosemary, Finch’s love interest, was allowed to introduce the song earlier in the picture as a conventional ballad sung to him. It means that Finch is echoing Rosemary’s sentiments rather than expressing his own, which changes everything.

“My Friends,” from Sweeney Todd
In this hypnotic Stephen Sondheim song, the demon barber of Fleet Street is reunited with his cherished razors by the amoral pie maker Mrs. Nellie Lovett, who has saved them for him in case he ever returned from prison. Sweeney expresses not only his love for the instruments but also his love of revenge, as he plans to cut the throat of Judge Turpin with them, the man who railroaded him to prison and took over the lives of his wife and daughter. Mrs. Lovett has a counterpoint in which we learn of her twisted passion for the barber. It’s certainly not your average love song.

“Dear, Sweet Sewing Machine,” cut from Fiddler on the Roof
Here is another ode to a physical object, but in this case a much more benign one. Tevye’s eldest daughter, Tzeitel, marries Motel, the poor tailor she loves, at the end of Act 1. Songwriters Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick wanted to revisit Tzeitel and Motel in Act 2, who now have a young baby and are celebrating the arrival of a machine that will allow Motel to increase his business significantly, making their family situation more stable. The song is a charmer and always went over well in backers’ auditions, but in the theatre audiences weren’t stirred. The reason is that Motel and Tzeitel’s story resolves with their marriage. Theatregoers simply weren’t interested in following them further. You can hear Bock and Harnick themselves sing it on Harbinger Records’ Sheldon Harnick: Hidden Treasures (1949-2013).

“I Won’t Send Roses,” from Mack and Mabel
Silent film director Mack Sennett warns his much younger star, Mabel Normand, not to fall in love with him in this classic Jerry Herman ballad. The lovely tune is as romantic as anything Herman ever wrote, but the lyric works against it. (“I won’t send roses/Or hold the door./I won’t remember/which dress you wore.”) Nevertheless, the subtext suggests that Mack is open to love with Mabel, especially in the turnaround at the end. (“And so while there’s a fighting chance/Just turn and go./I won’t send roses/And roses suit you so.) Mabel then has an immediately following solo reprise in which she discounts Mack’s advice, ending with “And though I know I may be left/Out on a limb,/So who needs roses/That didn’t come from him?” The show bombed due to storytelling problems, but when you listen to Robert Preston and Bernadette Peters, they are in a hit.

“In This Wide, Wide World,” from Gigi
Here is another self-deprecating love song. When Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe adapted their 1958 hit film into a Broadway stage musical in 1973, they musicalized a moment for Gigi that on screen had been done in dialogue. Gigi has turned down the chance to become Gaston’s mistress, but she is unhappy without him. On screen she summons him to her apartment, comes out of her room to greet him, and simply says, “Gaston, I have been thinking. I would rather be miserable with you than without you,” after which she smiles and returns to her room. On stage she accepts a telephone call from him that she has prompted (the telephone is newly installed and represents Gigi’s adulthood) and sings to him of how ill-suited she is to be his mistress (“In this wide, wide world/Must be oh so many girls better for you than I”) but ends with the same declaration. The music is from a song written for Eliza Doolittle to sing in My Fair Lady, “There’s a Thing Called Love,” which was never used.

“Is Anybody There?,” from 1776
John Adams articulates his vision of America in this climactic Sherman Edwards song, and the whole thing is shot through with his love of a country he is still striving to create. Edwards took much of the lyric directly from Adams’ own prose writing, and William Daniels’ impassioned delivery of it never fails to move me, whether listening to the OBCR or watching the excellent film version. “I see Americans/All Americans/Free forevermore!,” cries Adams at the song’s climax. If only that had happened. I love how the song ends quietly, dropping back into dialogue and eschewing applause.

“To Make Us Proud,” from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
In the line quoted above, Adams, of course, is referring to America’s original sin: slavery. Alan Jay Lerner and Leonard Bernstein wrote a whole musical for America’s Bicentennial in 1976 that called out that original sin and challenged audiences to rise above racial prejudice. Originally the musical was a play within a play, in which actors are rehearsing a musical about America. The lead was the white actor playing all the presidents depicted in the musical, and he has a running argument with the black actor playing a free servant in the White House about the history of race in America. In this climactic song, the white actor says, “Oh, God! How I long to be proud! To be proud!.... That’s all I have been trying to find the whole time. Nothing more than that.... I want to be proud! And to be able to feel it! And believe it! And live it! And say it!.....” Then he begins singing, “To burn with pride/And not with shame/Each time I hear/My country’s name” and ultimately ending with “Let rage be fearless/And faith be loud/This land needs love/To make us proud.” It’s a song about wanting to be able to love America without reservation, and it is alas far too applicable today. You can hear it, though not in its original dramatic context, on the politically deracinated A White House Cantata.

“Windflowers,” from The Golden Apple
In turn-of-the-20th-century Washington State, a chastened Helen has returned home to the small town of Angel’s Roost from the neighboring big city of Troy with her much older husband, Menelaus, after causing a scandal by running off with the handsome young salesman Paris. However, Penelope’s wandering warrior husband, Odysseus, and his men have remained in the big city to celebrate their retrieval of Helen. In this John Latouche–Jerome Moross song, Penelope recalls the early days of their love but comes to the realization that her husband will always stray from her in his quest for adventure, “And I know there’ll be no growing old for me and for him/No, never, never, not for me and him!,” she sings with a mixture of anger, resignation, and, yes, love. It’s a complicated emotional place for a love song, and I love it for that.

“And What If We Had Loved Like That,” from Baby
Richard Maltby Jr. and David Shire peppered their score for this musical about three couples having a baby with terrific straightforward love songs, from the buoyant “Two People in Love” to the tender “With You” and the earnest “I Chose Right.” This one, however, is, like “Windflowers,” a questioning song, sung by middle-aged couple Arlene and Alan, who have had their marriage threatened when, just after their last child has left the nest, Arlene accidentally gets pregnant. Alan wants the baby; Arlene doesn’t. In this song they question the careful, safe choices they have made with their lives, both regretting putting parenthood ahead of passion. However, in so doing, they decide that they could do it differently this time, and end up recommitting to each other. Certainly not your usual love song.

“When I Look in Your Eyes,” from the film Doctor Dolittle
This attractive Leslie Bricusse tune is probably about as conventional as a love song can get (“In your eyes I see the deepness of the sea/I see the deepness of the love/The love I feel you feel for me”). The published sheet music has the last couplet as “Those eyes, so wise, so warm, so real/How I love the world your eyes reveal.” On screen, however, Rex Harrison, as the titular veterinarian who can talk to the animals, gently intones instead: “Those eyes, so wise, so warm, so real/Isn’t it a pity you’re a seal?” Then he tosses his Sophie, whom he has healed with his medicine, back into the sea and freedom. ’Nuff said. Alas, the film soundtrack isn’t available digitally, but you can hear Phillip Schofield sing both last lines on the OCR of the London stage adaptation.

“I Don’t Want to Know,” from Dear World
The Countess Aurelia of Paris, France, sings of her passionate desire to avoid looking at the reality of what a foul place the world has become in Jerry Herman’s fevered ode to avoidance. The countess is in love with her illusions, her chosen memories, and she does not want them spoiled by truth. But because she is played by Angela Lansbury, you just know she will rise to the occasion and pull her head out of the sand in order to right things just in the nick of time. We all have and need our escapes, but I’m hard-pressed to think of other songs so nakedly, fervently in love with fooling oneself.

“Razzle Dazzle,” from Chicago
Crooked lawyer Billy Flynn displays his love of the con in this John Kander–Fred Ebb ode to the power of show business to obscure truth. Unlike Aurelia, however, he is not passionate in his need for lies. What he revels in is the sense of power he gets from lying, as well as the spotlight that shines on him when he does it and the money he makes from it. He is, I suppose, somewhat akin to the narcissists who began this column, but the depth of his cynicism surpasses that of either Cora Hoover Hooper or J. Pierpont Finch. And brutally cynical love songs aren’t exactly a dime a dozen.

“I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face,” from My Fair Lady
A master class in musical theatre acting is going on eight times a week at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theatre when Harry Hadden-Paton steps up to the plate and takes on this iconic Lerner and Loewe song. It’s hard to know whether this is an actual love song or not, because it’s hard to know if Henry Higgins understands what love is. (Given the very fine if quite different performances of Diana Rigg and Rosemary Harris as Higgins’ mother, the production seems to suggest he may never have known love at all.) But Eliza Doolittle has definitely gotten under his skin, so I would ultimately say that this is one of the most indirect love songs ever written. Hadden-Paton shows us a man who comes to realize that he will lose Eliza if he doesn’t change but is helpless to stop himself. It’s extremely moving, and Laura Benanti’s Eliza is feistier and more self-possessed than Lauren Ambrose’s slowly emerging Eliza, with each being valid and wonderful. Danny Burstein, stepping in for Norbert Leo Butz, is a neat and nifty Alfie Doolittle. Don’t miss them!

“Answer Me,” from The Band’s Visit
David Yazbeck and Itamar Moses’ musical about an Egyptian military band that ends up in a tiny Israeli backwater town by accident is all about the need for love and connection, even if those subjects are rarely if ever explicitly discussed by its characters. This climactic ensemble number expressing the human need to be heard and seen is devastating in its simplicity. It is, in a way, a love song to humanity itself, and I can’t think of a better way to finish a column about unusual love songs than with “Answer Me.”

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Feb
08

Unusual Love Songs

Valentine's Day looms - and so we're looking at love songs here on BwayTunes.com. The challenge I put to Erik and Ken was to name some of their favorite "unusual" romantic numbers. They've each provided a delectable assortment of songs, and I'm betting you'll enjoy and smile as you read their columns.

To complement Erik's and Ken’s columns, I'd like to offer up the following two albums for your consideration: 

  • The Visit - A youthful romance that went horribly wrong sets the stage for this darkly bittersweet musical, and one number, "You, You, You," haunts as you hear how its one-time optimism turned sour.
  • Honeymoon in Vegas - Goofy can be unusual, right? It's why I've picked Jason Robert Brown's "I Love Betsy," the opening number for this show based on the movie of the same name. It beautifully sets the tone for this loopy tuner.

Remember, if you need to add any of the recordings mentioned here and in the guys' blogs to your collection, you can find links to them in the carousels on the BwayTunes.com homepage. 


You'll find some hearts and flowers tucked in among some other interesting things with this week's Spotify playlist: our nod to Valentine's Day 2019! 


Andrew Lippa's newest musical takes you on a fascinating and marvelously tuneful journey through LGBTQ history. Our free song download this week is a great way to dive into this terrific new recording. 


Take a look at the marvelously diverse array of new music that we've gotten for you, particularly:

  • Company - This gender-swapped production of Stephen Sondheim and George Furth's 1970 classic has been generating a lot of buzz both in the UK and here. It's promised for Broadway in the not-so-distant future. Take a listen to this new cast album to discover what the excitement's about!
  • Unbreakable - Soloists Britney Coleman, Marcus J. Paige, and Lisa Vroman, along with songwriter Andrew Lippa, join the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus for this exciting new cast album of a show that traverses more than a century of the gay experience in America.

In addition to these albums, you’ll want to check out these new releases, which can be found in the main carousel at the top of the home page and in the “New and Recommended” one at the bottom of the page.

  • Follies - Stephen Sondheim's ravishing score for this 1971 musical sounds pretty incredible on this new recording that preserves last year's highly acclaimed London revival cast (from the Royal National Theatre). It's a marvelous addition to the collection.
  • Songs for a New World - This Jason Robert Brown score gets showcased beautifully on a new album that features the cast that presented the show last summer as part of City's Center's Off-Center seriesWhat's great about this recording is that it comes on two CDs meaning it is longer than any previous release of this much-loved show.
  • Band Geeks: The Musical - You'll find some giddy merriment at work in this tuner that's finally come to disc. A romp through the world of high school marching bands, Band Geeks sets toes a-tappin' and mouths a-smilin' from start to finish.
  • The Dancing Years - A rare treat awaits listeners with this new, complete recording of Ivor Novello and Christopher Hassell's 1939 operetta about a man who's in love with two women. Swirling melodies and gorgeous vocals abound on this beautifully assembled studio cast album.
  • Brigadoon - Kelli O'Hara and Patrick Wilson are both in fine voice on this beautiful recording of Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner's classic musical. We're all very happy to have a recording of this Encores! presentation.
  • "Loser Geek Whatever" - In anticipation of the Broadway bow of Joe Iconis' Be More Chill, the producers have released this nifty EP featuring three different versions of one of the show's terrific tunes.
  • Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - Imogen Heap's Drama Desk Award winning score for the epic theatrical adventure featuring J.K. Rowling's renowned boy wizard has been marvelously transformed into four suites for this new recording. 
  • Will He Like Me? - Philip Chaffin lends his voice to over a dozen classic Broadway tunes and, in the process, creates a moving song cycle.

I'm being told that readers are genuinely enjoying our "by the decade" series, and Ken and Erik have said they enjoy writing them.

So when you get our newsletter next time out, you'll find that we're turning back the clock to the 1940s.

I imagine that Rodgers and Hammerstein might figure in their columns (lol), and I know that I'd be remiss in not mentioning Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden, and Adolph Green's On the Town.

Coincidentally (truly), a new pairing of studio recordings of this show will be coming out at the end of the month, courtesy of Stage Door Records. You can learn a bit more about that release by clicking here.

 

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Feb
08

Valentine's Day and Lorenz Hart

Ah, the most romantic time of the year. But for some, it seems love is will never come. Or it won’t be recognized. And without it the heart goes cold while the longing persists. All this could be said about lyricist Lorenz Hart. As Alan Jay Lerner wrote about him, “There is a tenderness in some of Larry’s lyrics that always catches me off guard and brings a tear to my eye. His wit was delicious and pithy. When the subject was love—the love he never knew—well, there is that tear.”

And yet he just might have been the most romantic of lyricists and the one who’s need for love is the strongest. So, on Valentine’s Day if you have a love be grateful. And if you don’t, never give up. And keep the hope in your heart. That’s what Larry Hart did even if it was never realized.

So, while some writers like Ted Koehler write, “Hooray for Love” let’s turn to Larry Hart’s more nuanced (some would say skewed) view of love and follow the early evolution of his thoughts on love. Yes, he was writing for characters but as all writers do, they call on their own emotions as a basis for their characters feelings.

He didn’t start his career with a jaundiced view of love. Way back in 1919, he and Richard Rodgers wrote their first published song, “Any Old Place with You,” which offer up on Songs by Cole Porter & Rodgers & Hart: The 1953 Walden Sessions. In it the singer proclaims:

I’ll go to hell for ya
Or Philadelphia,
Any old place with you.

There’s a guy who’s willing to do practically anything for the girl he loves. A year later he expressed the physical manifestations of being in love in the Columbia University show, Fly with Me. The song is “The Third Degree of Love” and the effects are downright terrible:

You feel the fever,
You can’t deceive her
When first she looks into your eyes;
You think you’re wise—
You’re otherwise!
And little birdies seem to sing in your brain!
You start to tremble,
You can’t dissemble,
She asks you what you’re thinking of,
When of your love you’d speak,
Your knees get weak—
That’s the third degree of love

In 1922, though a love song, “I Know You’re Too Wonderful for Me,” shows some insecurities creeping into the lyric:

I know that you’re too wonderful for me!
I know it’s much too wonderful to be!
You’re so beyond compare,
I never dreamed you’d care,
It’s just like magic to be loved by you,
I can’t believe it’s true!
You’ve always seemed a princess far away,
And now I find you in my arms today!
The reason you should care at all
Is more than I can see,
You’re too wonderful for me!

Things accelerate two years later with The Melody Man’s, “I’d Like to Poison Ivy.” And a rejection of love when it does come. He just couldn’t win. Loved or not he couldn’t be happy. [You can hear this rarity on Ronnie Whyte and Travis Hudson’s The Songs of Rodgers and Hart.]

I’d like to poison Ivy
Because she clings to me!
She grabbed me the moment when we met,
Just a Jane you want to forget.
Like Barnum stuck to Bailey,
She sticks to me, you see;
I’d like to poison Ivy,
Because she poison’s me.

By the time of Rodgers and Hart’s breakout hit, The Garrick Gaieties in 1925 there are definitely some chinks in the armor.

In the song “April Fool” [sample it here], the verse says it all:

My poor heart goes
Any way the wind blows’
Spring is a habit with me;
Girls refuse me
But they cannot lose me;
Plato and I can’t agree;
I am burdened with a fondness
For girlish blondness
That I can’t explain;
When I’m doleful,
I become most soulful;
I like my sunshine after rain.

Calling Doctor Freud! Later on in the same show, he asks the musical question that has echoed through the eternity of lyrics, “Do You Love Me?”

Do you love me?
I wonder, I wonder,
I wonder, can it be?
My poor heart’s all
Asunder, asunder,
It’s under spells cast by you.
Will you answer me clearly, sincerely,
Or merely banter with me?
Do you love me?
I wonder, I wonder
I wonder if it can be.

Going through the lyrics we find the same themes though, of course, there’s also your typical love songs. But still… there’s that wistfulness and reluctance to believe that things will turn out right.

Our last quote will be from Dearest Enemy and the song, “Here in My Arms” which sort of wraps up Larry Hart’s immeasurable longing and belief that he’ll never realize his dreams.

Here in my arms it’s adorable!
It’s deplorable
That you were never there.
When little lips are so kissable
It’s permissible
For me to ask my share.
Next to my heart it is ever so lonely,
I’m holding only air,
While here in my arms it’s adorable!
It’s deplorable
That you were never there.

As he got older his personal travails continued. Gay in an era where admittance and acceptance were difficult especially when working with a collaborator who was often detached, he sought solace in drink. His short height made him feel he was a lesser person and exacerbated his worsening depression. He died in 1943. A tragedy for sure but we are left with some of the most personal and deeply felt lyrics by a master in his field.
 

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Jan
25

In the 1970s..

There were 180 musical mounted either originals or revivals. When discussing which are my favorite musicals I think there’s three categories since every musical is a favorite for different reasons. There are enjoyable productions that may not have become successes. There are shows in which the original was possibly not the greatest but have gone on for fame and fortune And there’s shows that were so remarkable in their original production they can never be revived as successfully as the original production.

For the sake of this article I’ve decided only to list original musicals and revues (I’ll cheat a little). And I’m listing them alphabetically (and not counting articles like “A” or “The” as the first word alphabetically (take that New York Times A B C’s – do they actually exist anymore?).

If you’d like a more in depth opinion on some of the most noteworthy shows see Frank Vlastnik’s and my book Broadway Musicals: The 101 Greatest Shows of All Time.

Ain’t Misbehavin’
This show was perfect in every way. Most songwriter revues since this show are basically staged radio. Ain’t Misbehavin’ didn’t have a plot but it had a cast of characters that were as fully realized as any musical. It was simple, didn’t take itself too seriously, wasn’t full of shtick, and respected the material. Every cast member had Personality (note that capital “P”). And it put the songs forward. Not the sets or false dramatic moments. But it did have subtext and that’s because of the exemplary cast and direction. Too many revues since then have bland performers who sing and dance well but have no individuality. This show was a joy in every regard. And it wasn’t ballad heavy like a lot of other songwriter revues.

The transfer of Ain’t Misbehavin’ to Broadway was a great success. If you’d like, jump down to Jacques Brel…, where I peruse two other shows that made the leap and what lessons we can learn from them.

Annie
I gotta admit I wasn’t bowled over by Annie when I first saw it in tryouts at the Kennedy Center. But it was clearly fully professional in every regard, and no cost was spared in scenery, costumes, lighting, orchestration—you name it. And it treated what might be called a “children’s show” with respect. It was equally enjoyable for audiences of all ages. Of course, since then it’s become one of the most successful musicals of all time. And the current national tour, directed by librettist/lyricist Martin Charnin, is perfect in every way.

Company
It’s difficult for audiences today—OK, it’s impossible for audiences today to respond to Company in the same way as audiences did in the original production. It had a libretto like no other show. It had a set like no other show. It had a finger on the pulse of America at the time like no other show. Its construction, orchestration, and score like no other show. It truly was a revelation. It was hip and current and smart. And, most importantly it didn’t pull back on emotional impact. When Dean Jones (and Larry Kert) sang “Being Alive” it was the perfect musical moment. Songs in shows are supposed to be there when spoken words alone can’t express the emotions of the moment. And “Being Alive” elevated the whole show and the experience of seeing the show like no other show before it. Just as we can’t see Oklahoma! through the eyes and minds of the original audience, no other revival of Company can ever equal the sheer heart-stopping moments and exhilaration knowing history was being made on stage at the Alvin Theatre. Aside: When Elaine Stritch sang the lyric, “Everybody rise!” in “The Ladies Who Lunch” many if not most of the audience were so caught up in the moment that we thought, “are we meant to stand up?” And if we had, we wouldn’t have felt like fools.

A Chorus Line
Another show like no other. Like Company, A Chorus Line was unlike any show before (or since). There was no real plot. There was no set to speak of. But the personalities of the characters were front and center. And Michael Bennett truly revolutionized staging with its cinematic elements. It sounds strange if you didn’t see that original production, but when you left you would swear there were close-ups and wipes and montages. What’s bad about A Chorus Line is that when it moved uptown from the Public Theater and became a smash hit every other non-profit theatre hoped that their show would move too. (The same thing can be said for when Chicago moved to Broadway from City Center’s Encores). Board members now expect lightning to strike again with big returns and that means moving the show to a Broadway theatre.

Follies
Speaking of Michael Bennett, he happened also to co-direct this landmark musical. I think it was Harold Prince that opined that Follies could never be revived satisfactorily. And he was right. Because the whole show was about resonance. While watching Ethel Shutta or Alexis Smith or Yvonne de Carlo you weren’t just seeing the characters but also the whole rich history that came along with them. The entire show was based on a nostalgia that wasn’t exactly as it’s recalled. And though you may not have seen Ethel Shutta on Broadway in the ‘30s, you knew she was the real thing. Her whole style of performing was antiquated (and I mean that in the most positive way). The way she sang, her posture, her attack on the lyrics was all reflective of a bygone era.

Hal Prince was correct. You can never mount Follies again. It was at once of its time and of the entire past of the Broadway musical at the same time. And it made us personally reflect on our own lives, the roads we didn’t take, nostalgia for past times that were probably both better and worse that the present. For me, the closest a revival came to the original was the Paper Mill production. It was a shadow of the original but it had the right almost wistful feeling of a time that was truly gone with the wind. Yes, it was more MGM than Broadway but it still rang many of the same bells, albeit much toned down from the original.

Okay, you made me say it: Follies was the greatest experience in my decades of theatergoing. When my friend Harry and I left the theatre we literally found it difficult and even redundant to say anything. It took over a half-hour for us to gather our wits together.

Grease
For better or worse (probably the latter), Grease helped create the whole 1950s nostalgia. The best thing about the show was that it didn’t comment on itself. It really loved the ‘50s. The pastiche score was sincere even if it was silly. And it didn’t have any message at all! It just wanted to entertain. Is the score great? No. Is the libretto great? No. Were the performances great? You got it, no. They were all very good but there was really nothing special to act. The cast had to simply believe in their characters without commentary. Believe it or not, it’s the show I’ve seen most often. Yes, there were the Broadway revivals. But I’ve seen it in London, Paris, Milan and probably a few more cities. Somehow the simplicity and sincerity of the show translates even in countries that never went through the whole ‘50s greaser culture.

Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris and You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown
What do these two shows have in common? And before we get to that, yes, I know they both opened off-Broadway in the 60s. But I’m including them because, like Ain’t Misbehavin’ they transferred to Broadway and there’s a lesson for us all in that jump to The Main Stem. But first let’s talk about each show individually.

Jacques Brel: Shall we love this show or hate it? This off-Broadway revue of the songs of Jacques Brel was, like Ain’t Misbehavin’ a simple revue. It played over four years at the Village Gate in Greenwich Village and then made the jump to Broadway where it closed after only 52 performances.

 Jacques Brel (the show) had even less going for it than Ain’t Misbehavin’. First, most Americans never even heard of the great French singer-songwriter. And it was produced decades before “singer-songwriter” was even a thing. But the excellent cast and the power of the music created a unique theatrical experience. No special sets or costumes or lighting or staging. Just terrific talents and terrific tunes.

Now, why should we hate it? And the aforementioned Ain’t Misbehavin’ too? Because the success of these two “jukebox musicals” led to seemingly hundreds of songwriter shows of lesser worth. And no, putting a jukebox musical on stage with a script doesn’t guarantee success. Most of these shows, including some on Broadway now, fall flat because they’re produced to make money not for artistic reasons. Beautiful is an exception because of its top-notch script, direction and it having a real story to tell and does it respectfully and seriously.

Now let’s have a look at You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, the smallest of the bunch but just maybe the most successful show of any on this list. Yes, even Annie. Is there a school anywhere in the United States that hasn’t had at least one production of this show? Or a recreation center or summer camp or church? With nothing but a scrim and some variously colored and shaped blocks this show charmed us and moved us too. The cast was just perfect with Gary Burghoff, Bill and Skip Hinnant, Reva Rose, Karen Johnson, and Bob Balaban as the Charles Schulz characters. Songwriter Clark Gesner couldn’t make lightning strike twice in his career but this show is a hugely enjoyable miracle.

You know, it’s very difficult taking as beloved a comic strip as Peanuts where millions of readers each have their own imaginative idea of how these people talk. The genius was in having everything so stylized. Bill Hinnant wasn’t wearing anything that would identify him as Snoopy. No tail, no long ears. But for the entire show, the audience used their imaginations to conjure up the characters. And isn’t it rare for shows to ask the audience to use their imaginations while watching a show? Not just sit back, keep your eyes open and take it in but actually let your mind fill in the blanks as if you’re collaborating with the artists. It’s interesting to note that the original off-Broadway run was 1,597 performances. When a different cast made the trek to Broadway the show lasted 32 performances. So, we’ll leave you with the saddest thing of all in looking at this show and Ain’t Misbehavin’. Basically, now there is no off-Broadway. Can’t make money off-Broadway. So, everything that is produced in a resident theatre company or for Encores has the staff, consciously or not, hoping that lightning will strike and the show will move to the Great White Way. And that’s not always the wisest thing to do.

And that brings us, believe it or not, to Fiddler on the Roof, the Yiddish production of which is also moving. But its producers are, like Tevye, very wise. They are moving to an off-Broadway theatre. Because what many producers don’t realize if you’re a hit in a smaller theatre with, say, 250 seats what makes you think you can make the leap to a 1,000 seat theatre and sell that out.

A Little Night Music
Here’s the third Harold Prince show on the list. No surprise there. And the second Sondheim show. I don’t have much to say except that every facet of the show was elegant and excellent. Sounds simple, no?—to paraphrase a great show from the ‘60s (again with Hal Prince at the helm). The score was witty in a fun way not a show-off way. And the emotions were real. And “Send in the Clowns?” Nothing more to say except it’s a perfect song.

Music Is
What you never heard of this show? It only played eight performances. It was one of the last shows directed by George Abbott, who also wrote the script. Richard Adler and Will Holt composed the score. It really harkened back to Abbott’s glory days of The Boys from Syracuse and its ilk. But the timing was wrong. I saw the show at least three times at its DC tryout, and it was just a lot of fun. No message. Catherine Cox, Joel Higgins, Christopher Hewitt, David Holliday and Sheri Mathis were perfect in their parts. It was silly. It was fun. It was entertaining. Shouldn’t that be enough? Well, maybe not now as Head Over Heels proved. Not at ticket prices what they are.

No, No, Nanette
Here’s a show that was (be patient) a cross between Grease and Follies. You had the nostalgia quotient for what we look back on as a simpler time (though what about that nasty crash of the stock market?) and a past star, Ruby Keeler, back on Broadway decades after her last appearance. Again, produced, written and directed in the best Broadway style. It really broke new ground and like all shows that are unique and successful others tried to make lightning strike twice. Good News with Alice Faye instead of Ruby Keeler. And Harry Rigby again producing. But it only lasted 16 performances. It was a lot of fun but audiences had already seen the real thing and perhaps years after or years before No, No, Nanette it might have been a success. Harry Rigby will, however, make a return appearance on this list.

On the Twentieth Century
Here’s another statement by me that you might agree with or might get you pissed off. Here goes: On the Twentieth Century was the last great traditional musical. Note that I did put “traditional” in the statement. And I wouldn’t have put it in if it wasn’t for Hamilton. I won’t go on listing its many accomplishments. Let’s just say it was a perfect production. Hal Prince again, I might add. And where was this show in the recent documentary on the director? Yes, it didn’t have an impact on Broadway history but it was perfect in every regard. Not revolutionary or emotionally impactful. But just smart, and witty (not the same as smart), and perfectly designed and directed, and acted… Have I gone on too long?

Pacific Overtures
Now here’s a really great show that just might have been a little too esoteric for the tired businessman. Prince and Sondheim again with a brilliant, intelligent, insightful show. Beautifully written, produced and designed (Aaronson and Klotz and Musser!!) but possible too intellectual for your typical Broadway audience. Those girls in kimonos didn’t show any leg.

70, Girls, 70
More nostalgia casting but with a wonderful score and the always delightful Mildred Natwick leading the cast. She was one of the consummate performers that doesn’t quite get her due. From the comedy of Barefoot in the Park to Blithe Spirit there’s nobody who was more in control of her own character and the audience. Her likes will never be seen again. And there was also Hans Conreid, Lillian Roth, Herbie Faye (also in Sugar Babies with Joey Bishop), and Lillian Heyman. Not big name stars but seasoned performers with decades and decades of experience. I didn’t see the show, apparently it was somewhat of a mess. But here’s a show whose original cast recording of John Kander and Fred Ebb’s songs makes it sound like the funniest shows ever on stage.

Sugar Babies
Here’s a show that had legs aplenty. Legs physically on view on stage thanks to Ann Miller and also legs at the box office. It was a surprise hit. Talk about a show that celebrated the past but wasn’t particularly nostalgic even though the stars Mickey Rooney and Ann Miller were certainly stars of the long ago past. But the show wasn’t designed for nostalgia. It was out only for fun. And when Mickey Rooney left and comic Joey Bishop took his place the show worked just as well. Harry Rigby back again celebrating the past by making it just as entertaining in the present. And it boasted the brilliant Hilary Knight poster design (actually three different designs all superb).

Sweeney Todd
I guess by this point you’ve figured out that the team of Prince and Sondheim ruled the Broadway stage of the 70s. And this show was no different. It was immense and intimate at the same time. Quite an accomplishment. All the more amazing given the subject matter and the fact that the protagonist and leading character was a murderer who was abetted by the a woman who cut up corpses for ingredients in her meat pies. When I saw it for the second time I was sitting next to a woman who had no idea what the show was about. And I was worried that she’d take offence at the tone of the piece where the characters you root for are the most despicable of people. But the brilliance of Prince and Sondheim and librettist Hugh Wheeler (not to mention Cariou and Lansbury) entertained her mightily. Perhaps if she had known what the show was about she wouldn’t have attended. But isn’t it the nicest thing to sit in a theatre and know you’re in good hands. That people who know what they’re doing are in charge? Not that the aforementioned gentlemen and lady haven’t had their share of flops but even the “failures” are strong and steady and sure.

Working
Like 70, Girls, 70, a show that people say works better as a cast recording than the show itself. What’s most remarkable about the high quality of the score is that it was made up of songs by a whole bunch of people with completely different styles and backgrounds. You’ve got Stephen Schwartz and Mary Rodgers and Micki Grant and Craig Carnelia all working at the top of their game. Maybe it’s Kirk Nurock’s orchestrations that tie everything together so seamlessly. It’s a surprisingly excellent score with more variations of mood, style, message, and breadth of subjects than any other Broadway score. Get the cast album and you won’t be disappointed.

We thought the 70s were a disappointing decade as far as musicals went. But looking back now with the knowledge of what’s on Broadway now it seems like the most exciting of decades. And it was.

 

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Jan
25

Favorites by Decade – The 1970s

So now it’s my five favorite Broadway musicals of the 1970s? That’s easy: the five collaborations of director Harold Prince and composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim. They also get a sixth title included, as I am once again also choosing five off-Broadway tuners. Unlike for the recent 1950s column, though, I don’t have a lot of shows that I regret having to leave off the list. Perhaps The Rothschilds, On the Twentieth Century, Ain’t Misbehavin’, and Annie—and certainly Chicago—but that’s about it.

The 1970s are the decade in which I moved to NYC to live (in October 1976), so I have actually seen all 10 of these shows, eight of them in the original production (on Broadway, on National Tour, or in the West End) and two in revival (one of which was directed by its original director and included cast members from its original production). To echo Spencer Tracy’s assessment of Katharine Hepburn in Pat and Mike, for me musicals in the 1970s didn’t have much meat on them, but what there was was cherce.

Company (Opened April 26, 1970, at the Alvin Theatre)
I had just turned 16 when I brought this OBCR home, put it on the turntable in my bedroom, closed the door, and sat down to listen. By the time it was over, my world had shifted. Any interest I had in pop music—and I did listen to artists such as the Four Seasons, Simon and Garfunkel, the Dave Clark Five, Petula Clark, the Turtles, the Beach Boys, and the Monkees—vanished, because none of it was remotely as interesting as this now-seminal Sondheim score. I saw the national tour at Cleveland’s Hanna Theatre while home from college for Thanksgiving vacation in 1971. It featured George Chakiris as Bobby and Elaine Stritch as Joanne, and though I was disappointed that there was no moving elevator, I hung on every word and note. With Company, the mature Stephen Sondheim emerged full blown, and musical theatre would never be the same again.

Follies (Opened April 4, 1971, at the Winter Garden Theatre)
Harold Prince once told me, as he has told others across the years, that this mordant musical about mortality is his favorite of all the shows he produced and/or directed. It certainly killed me that I couldn’t get to New York to see it. Alas, there was no national tour, just a one-off engagement in L.A. I played the OBCR to death, but the truncations and omissions were maddening. I did see an amateur production in Cleveland directed by Fran Soeder, with Eric Stern on piano leading the onstage band, which I thought was terrific for what it was (I wouldn’t actually meet these fellow Ohioans until moving to NYC). One of the bootleg recordings I most treasure is the complete audiotape made through the sound system of the Winter Garden. I’ve seen numerous revivals, but nothing can compare with that tape, augmented by the color film footage, both silent and with sound, that exists of Prince and Michael Bennett’s stunning, heartbreaking production. Between the two, I’ve almost convinced myself that I was there.

Dr. Selavy’s Magic Theatre (Opened Nov. 23, 1972, at the Mercer Arts Center)
I bought the LP for this show because playwright Arthur Miller vouched for it in the liner notes, calling it “wild, wooley [sic], and wonderful.” At the time I had no idea who Richard Foreman, who conceived, staged, and designed it, was, nor had I heard of lyricist Tom Hendry (who went on to a long theatrical career in Canada) or composer Stanley Silverman. (Silverman would subsequently write Up From Paradise with Miller, the musical version of the great playwright’s The Creation of the World and Other Business.) Silverman’s eclectic pastiche score was engaging enough, but I couldn’t make heads or tails of what the show was about. However, when I saw a 1984 revival, again under Foreman’s aegis and even featuring a few original cast members, at the Theatre at St. Clement’s, this surreal meditation on the world as a madhouse popped perfectly. Of course, by then I had seen Foreman’s Rhoda in Potatoland (so much string!), as well as his revival of The Threepenny Opera at Lincoln Center, so I knew a bit of what to expect. The great Broadway set designer Oliver Smith was a co-producer. The show’s hit off-Broadway run came to an abrupt close after four months when its rickety theatre, the Mercer Arts Center, suddenly collapsed (fortunately not during a performance).

A Little Night Music (Opened Feb. 25, 1973, at the Shubert Theatre)
As a big Lerner and Loewe fan, I was very excited to hear that Prince and Sondheim were doing a romantic musical, and I was not disappointed by this elegant adaptation of Ingmar Bergman’s film Smiles of a Summer Night. I saw the national tour twice at Chicago’s Shubert Theatre with a cast that included Jean Simmons, Margaret Hamilton, George Lee Andrews, Ed Evanko, and Stephen Lehew. Yes, it was their most conventional show to date, but when the conventions are such sturdy ones, who cares? When I worked with Andrews a few years later on Starting Here, Starting Now (see below), I was shocked to realize just how young he was when he played the middle-aged Fredrik Egerman. He was terrific, by the way (in both shows). He’s also terrific singing his big Act 2 solo (he played the servant Frid on Broadway), “Silly People,” on Sondheim: A Musical Tribute. The song was cut in Boston, but Andrews got to sing it on the Shubert Theatre stage for this one-night tribute concert not long after Night Music opened on Broadway.

Candide (Opened Dec. 11, 1973, at the Chelsea Theater Center/Brooklyn Academy of Music)
In his memoir Contradictions, Harold Prince says, “I loved working on Candide in Brooklyn and I hated bringing it to Broadway.” He was talking about the freedom of nonprofit theatre versus the pressures of the commercial variety, but that’s why I include the show here as an off-Broadway musical and not a Broadway one. Because it had an entirely new book by Hugh Wheeler and featured major changes to the score by Leonard Bernstein and a variety of lyricists (including new lyrics by Sondheim for this production), including a completely new, more intimate orchestration, I think the revisions sufficient to call it a practically new show. It’s a rare instance of a Broadway flop being turned into a hit (73 performances versus 740 performances), and it is the only version of this frequently revised musical that I have ever seen fire on all cylinders. I wish I had seen it at BAM (the hubby did), but I did catch it on Broadway on its closing weekend and was thoroughly entranced.

A Chorus Line (Opened May 21, 1975, at the Joseph Papp Public Theater/Newman Theater)
I include conceiver, choreographer, and director Michael Bennett’s mega Broadway smash here as an off-Broadway show because off-Broadway is in its DNA. Producer Joseph Papp of the Public Theater gave Bennett the option to develop the musical, both in writing and in performance, in a long workshop rehearsal process that would never have been possible in the commercial world of Broadway. The Marvin Hamlisch–Ed Kleban score throbs with theatrical vitality and smarts, and the recent well-received Encores! staging seems to have quieted the voices claiming that the show is an unrevivable period piece, which began thanks to the lackluster 2006 Broadway revival. I first saw the show at London’s Drury Lane Theatre in August 1976, just a few weeks after its July 22 opening there. To say it was thrilling would be an understatement.

Pacific Overtures (Opened Jan. 11, 1976, at the Winter Garden Theatre)
That said, I was not happy when A Chorus Line beat Pacific Overtures for the best musical Tony. That’s because this fourth Sondheim-Prince collaboration about the opening of Japan to the West by American Commodore Matthew Perry was simply the most astounding musical I had seen to date in my 22 years on the planet. My best friend and I were in the Winter Garden Theatre at the first preview, the evening of Dec. 31, 1975, and the memories are indelible, especially Perry’s ship folding open and rushing menacingly downstage at the audience like a giant piece of origami. Designers Boris Aronson (sets), Florence Klotz (costumes), and Tharon Musser (lights) were on fire for this one. John Weidman’s book was spare and sharp (with a little help from Hugh Wheeler), and Sondheim’s amazingly varied score somehow expressed the sounds of Eastern music in Western ways without a trace of kitsch. My hubby was in the audience that night too, though we would not even meet for another 17 years. I don’t believe in definitive superlatives and ultimate favorites, but I’m hard-pressed to think of a more important night in the theatre for me than seeing Pacific Overtures.

Starting Here, Starting Now (Opened March 7, 1977, at Barbarann’s Theatre Restaurant)
This endlessly entertaining off-Broadway musical revue by Richard Maltby Jr. (lyrics and direction) and David Shire (music) closes with three young people staring hopefully out at the audience and into the future as they sing, “Whatever my fortune, I’ll carry the torch of a new life comin’/What manner of thing will it be?/Who knows? Who cares?/Just bring my world to me.” And that’s just how I felt as I sold tickets to the show as its box office treasurer. I got the gig a mere three months after moving to NYC. I met a crucial mentor and lifelong friend, Maltby, because of it, and it provided my entry into the world of the professional theatre. When I first heard the songs during rehearsals, I was stunned by their unfailing high quality, because I had never heard of the songwriting team. How could a body of work like this exist without my knowing about it? My new life was indeed just beginning, and it couldn’t have had a happier kickoff.

I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road (Opened May 16, 1978, at the Joseph Papp Public Theater/Anspacher Theater)
I was already a fan of book writer–lyricist Gretchen Cryer and composer Nancy Ford’s work when this feminist manifesto opened at the Public Theater, thanks to their scores for Now Is the Time for All Good Men and The Last Sweet Days of Isaac. The reviews, however, were almost unanimously not good and made the musical sound like arid agitprop, so I didn’t race to see it. Nevertheless, it found its audience and was so successful at the box office that it transferred to off-Broadway’s Circle in the Square Theatre for what turned out to be a run of 1,165 performances. I finally caught up with it when Cryer, who also created the show’s leading role of a middle-of-the-road pop singer who is hitting 40 and wants to reinvent herself as an edgier, more authentic artist, returned to the part in the spring of 1980. I knew her slightly, because her young son, Jonny, volunteered under me at Equity Library Theatre, where I was theatre manager, helping to usher, work the concession stand, take tickets, and stuff like that. (Yes, he’s now Jon Cryer.) To my surprise I was bowled over by the show, thoroughly taken with its stinging rebuke of misogyny and consumerism. It worked just as well in 2011, again starring Cryer, when the York Theatre Company produced it in its Mufti Concert Series. Some critiques, it seems, are eternal.

Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Opened March 1, 1979, at the Uris Theatre)
I caught the second preview of this Sondheim-Prince-Wheeler masterpiece at the Feb. 7, 1979, Wednesday matinee, because I couldn’t go to the first performance on Tuesday night due to my job at ELT (we had a production of Eric Bentley’s adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler’s La Ronde running). At the time I was collaborating with the above-mentioned Fran Soeder and Eric Stern on a musical version of O. Henry’s short story “The Last Leaf,” and because Fran was serving as Harold Prince’s directing assistant on Sweeney, I knew about the mad barber, his bloody murders, and the comic ode to cannibalism he shared with the demented Mrs. Lovett, but much of the audience didn’t. The stunned surprise that greeted “A Little Priest” as it dawned on people that yes, indeed, they were going there, remains forever burned into my brain. Watching the tour de force performances of Angela Lansbury and Len Cariou, I knew I was witnessing an iconic moment in theatre history. I also remember Fran expressing his concern during rehearsals that a gorgeous song written for a supporting character might get cut due to time considerations. Fortunately, “Not While I’m Around” was very present and beautifully accounted for by Ken Jennings. As the ’70s ended I was a mere 25, and the future seemed limitless and full of promise, particularly when a musical such as Sweeney Todd could succeed commercially on Broadway. All in all, it wasn’t such a bad time to be young.

 

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Jan
25

The 1970s

So this week Erik and Ken look back at the 1970s and have named some of their favorite musicals from the decade. What do you think has made their respective lists? There are a lot of familiar titles in the mix, and some terrifically unexpected ones as well! 

To complement Erik's and Ken’s columns, I'd like to offer up the following two albums for your consideration: 

  • Mack and Mabel - Jerry Herman and Michael Stewart's revisitation to the era of silent films had a powerhouse cast and, in my mind, an utterly beguiling score. It had only a brief Broadway run, but the joys of Herman's music live on thanks to the original cast recording.
  • The Wiz - This retelling of The Wizard of Oz introduced a young Stephanie Mills to the world and a song that became a semi-hit "Ease on Down the Road." The subsequent movie version might have slight tarnished the musical's reputation, but I remain a big fan of the original cast recording. If you've not listened in a while, not might be a good time to throw it on your player.

Remember, if you need to add any of the recordings mentioned here and in the guys' blogs to your collection, you can find links to them in the carousels on the BwayTunes.com homepage. 


We've turned the clock back about fifty years this week on BwayTunes, and this week's Spotify playlist gleefully wanders through the musicals of the 1970s (both hits and flops), along the way you'll hear some of what I presume might be your faves from the decade and a few tunes that you're unfamiliar with. I'm sort of proud of this one.


Our free song download this week comes from Bulldozer: The Ballad of Robert Moses, a fascinating musical look at the life and career of a man who shaped much of the landscape of New York City. Heading up the cast (and prominently featured on the album) is Constantine Maroulis as the title character.


Take a look at the marvelously diverse array of new music that we've gotten for you, particularly:

  • Follies - Stephen Sondheim's ravishing score for this 1971 musical sounds pretty incredible on this new recording that preserves last year's highly acclaimed London revival cast (from the Royal National Theatre). It's a marvelous addition to the collection.
  • Songs for a New World - This Jason Robert Brown score gets showcased beautifully on a new album that features the cast that presented the show last summer as part of City's Center's Off-Center seriesWhat's great about this recording is that it comes on two CDs meaning it is longer than any previous release of this much-loved show.

In addition to these albums, you’ll want to check out these new releases, which can be found in the main carousel at the top of the home page and in the “New and Recommended” one at the bottom of the page.

  • Band Geeks: The Musical - You'll find some giddy merriment at work in this tuner that's finally come to disc. A romp through the world of high school marching bands, Band Geeks sets toes a-tappin' and mouths a-smilin' from start to finish.
  • The Dancing Years - A rare treat awaits listeners with this new, complete recording of Ivor Novello and Christopher Hassell's 1939 operetta about a man who's in love with two women. Swirling melodies and gorgeous vocals abound on this beautifully assembled studio cast album.
  • Brigadoon - Kelli O'Hara and Patrick Wilson are both in fine voice on this beautiful recording of Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner's classic musical. We're all very happy to have a recording of this Encores! presentation.
  • "Loser Geek Whatever" - In anticipation of the Broadway bow of Joe Iconis' Be More Chill, the producers have released this nifty EP featuring three different versions of one of the show's terrific tunes.
  • Broadway My Way - Heather Headley, Tony winner for Aida, reinterprets such classics as "Over the Rainbow," "Look to the Rainbow," and "Home" on this lush new recording.
  • The Greatest Showman Reimagined - P!nk, Kelly Clarkson, Sara Bareilles, and Kesha are just some of the artists featured on this album that brings you new versions of the songs from the hit movie that starred Hugh Jackman.
  • Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - Imogen Heap's Drama Desk Award winning score for the epic theatrical adventure featuring J.K. Rowling's renowned boy wizard has been marvelously transformed into four suites for this new recording. 
  • Will He Like Me? - Philip Chaffin lends his voice to over a dozen classic Broadway tunes and, in the process, creates a moving song cycle.

When you get the next newsletter, it'll be less than a week until Valentine's Day.

I figure that it would be a good time to talk about "love" and all of that, but I wanted Ken and Erik to have some fun too.

So....I have asked them to put together short lists of some of the most unusual love songs written for musicals. Not sure what they'll pick, but I do know I'm gonna be interested to see their final answers.

One show and a couple of songs that came to me while I was thinking about it is Grand Tour. Jerry Herman's score for this musical has several tunes that express love but in unconventional ways. If you don't know it, I heartily suggest a listen. AND, Grand Tour also fits in with this week's theme of 1970s musicals.

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Jan
11

Toujours la Soupe

The year-end holidays, from Thanksgiving to Hanukah to Christmas to Kwanzaa to New Year’s, are all intimately connected with food. So we are starting off the new year with a look at musical theatre songs that have an epicurean inclination. In salute to 2019, here are 19 of my choosing.

“Food for Thought,” from Magdalena
Robert Wright and George Forrest collaborated with the famed Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos on this short-lived (88 performances) 1948 musical, set in Colombia and France in 1912, about the striking workers of an emerald mine owned by a Columbian bon vivant who lives in Paris and the rocky romance between the workers’ secular leader and a terribly religious village girl named Maria. Opera star Dorothy Sarnoff played Madame Teresa, the owner of Paris’ Little Black Mouse Café, and she introduced this witty if retrograde instruction to women to keep their husbands sexually faithful by feeding them well. “A pinch of this/A pinch of that/And he’ll pinch this/And he’ll pinch that,” she advises, loudly proclaiming, “Toujours la soupe!” Judy Kaye does quite well with it in this recording of a 1987 concert production done at Alice Tully Hall under the baton of Evans Haile, who spearheaded the piece’s reconstruction. I was there, and so was lucky enough to hear, as a bonus, original star John Raitt sing the title song a mere 39 years later. That, alas, is not on the recording, but at least it finally documented this fascinating, adventurous score.

“Cooking Breakfast for the One I Love,” from the film Be Yourself!
Ziegfeld Follies star Fanny Brice duetted on this 1930 Jesse Greer (music), Billy Rose (lyrics), and Henry H. Tobias (lyrics) tune with Warner Bros. regular Robert Armstrong, who three years later would gain great fame as the hard-charging impresario in King Kong. Food and sex are again intertwined (“The coffee is steamin’/Oh, boy, what I’m dreamin’”), and the message is just as retrograde (“Our life has been so nice and chummy/Right from the start/When I won his tummy/I won his heart”), but Brice’s indefatigable charm, all popping eyes and comic accents, comes through. You can see the number on YouTube, and Brice’s recording of it is available on Fanny Brice Sings.

“Some Girls Can Bake a Pie,” from Of Thee I Sing
John P. Wintergreen is running for president of the United States in 1932 on a “love” platform, and his unnamed political party has promised that he will marry the winner of a national beauty pageant. Wintergreen, however, has fallen for his secretary, Mary Turner, and he dramatically breaks his promise at the end of Act 1 of this three-act musical by George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskin (book) and George and Ira Gershwin (music and lyrics). The reason? Mary “can really make corn muffins,” and the beauty contest winner, Diana Devereaux, “the most beautiful blossom in all the Southland,” can’t. Well, naturally, and Larry Kert is most persuasive in this 1987 concert version that was done at BAM under the baton of Michael Tilson Thomas.

“What Baking Can Do,” from Waitress
Pop singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles scored a major hit in her first time out on the Great White Way with the score for this 2016 adaptation of director-writer Adrienne Shelly’s 2007 indie film. In this song our heroine, a diner waitress named Jenna, tells us how she uses the pleasure she gets from baking as a way to escape the unhappiness of her marriage to an abusive man, just as her mother did before her. Star Jesse Mueller does an uncanny replication of Bareilles’ quirky, air-filled singing style, which makes sense for Jenna, though when other characters employ the same musical language and style, it does make you wonder if that is the only way Bareilles can write.

“Bread,” from The Baker’s Wife
When this 1976 musical by Joseph Stein (book) and Stephen Schwartz (music and lyrics) folded on the road prior to Broadway, Bruce Yeko of Original Cast Records swooped in and waxed a cast recording anyway. To save money, though, only the numbers for the three principals were included, which means that this extravagant paean by the villagers of a small French town to their new baker and his principal product was not on it. (Yeko did subsequently record “Bread” on a separately issued 45 with piano-only accompaniment.) However, in 1989 English director Trevor Nunn reworked the show with its authors as a vehicle for his then-wife, Sharon Lee Hill, and though it only managed 56 performances in the West End, it was nominated for an Olivier Award for “musical of the year.” For London Schwartz added a number of songs for the villagers in an attempt to dramatize the populace as a character in the story. He also added “Plain and Simple” for the older baker to sing to his young bride, in which he uses a recipe for bread to espouse his philosophy of life. The show is hampered by a too-slender story, but nevertheless this is my favorite Schwartz score, bar none.

“Rahadlakum,” from Kismet
This is another song in which a recipe is used as a metaphor, in this case for sexual gratification. Indeed, Wright and Forrest’s lyric is so suggestive that the verse, in which the members of an Arabic Wazir’s harem minister to the needs of an itinerant poet while discussing the nature of virtue, was shot by MGM for its 1955 film adaptation of this 1953 hit show but cut before the movie’s release, most likely due to the objections of the Production Code. (It survives on the Blu-ray DVD in a black-and-white work print as an extra.) The music, of course, is by Alexander Borodin as adapted by Wright and Forrest. Joan Diener, as the Wazir’s head wife, who has her eye on the poet, introduced it with considerable slink, and Dolores Gray insinuated plenty on screen. However, the innuendo champion is definitely Eartha Kitt, who turned the song into a showstopper in 1978’s Timbuktu, which reset the tale in northern Africa and featured an all-black cast. Though the show ran for a little over seven months and had a national tour, there was no cast album. Fortunately, you can see what Kitt did with it in two versions on YouTube, one shot live in performance and another, tamer version performed on TV. “Constantly stirring with a long wooden spoon.” You bet.

“I Write, You Read (‘Fair Trade’ reprise),” from I Remember Mama
Here is another use of recipes. Martin Charnin and Richard Rodgers wrote a completely unnecessary song for a supporting character just so they could have this quite useful reprise. In “Fair Trade,” novelist Dame Sybil Fitzgibbons communes with her fans as they kvell over her while singing, “She writes, we read.” In the reprise, Mama gets Dame Sybil to read her daughter’s stories by offering to write down secret Norwegian recipes in exchange for her attention. It’s fun, but does the elaborate setup really pay off well enough?

“The President Jefferson Sunday Luncheon Party March,” from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
President Thomas Jefferson throws a White House luncheon at which he introduces delicacies from foreign lands in this catchy Alan Jay Lerner–Leonard Bernstein number. Though an OBCR was never recorded in 1976, conductor John McGlinn did wax this tune, using the original Sid Ramin–Hershy Kay orchestration, with Davis Gaines making the introductions through a light Southern accent. I love the internal rhyme of “bouillabaisse” and “President.” Recorded for a 1993 CD titled Broadway Showstoppers, today it can be found as part of the collection called Leonard Bernstein 100 Years.

“Cheese Nips,” from God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater
This 1979 off-Broadway musical was the first collaboration of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, and while it was not successful, it did make people sit up and take notice. In this song rich Manhattan socialite Sylvia Rosewater has trouble dealing with her husband’s decision to uproot them to rural Indiana. In effect, she goes crackers serving the crackers. Brynn O’Malley is the one losing it on the OCR of the fine 2016 Encores! Off-Center concert presentation. The show is still flawed, but the recording is a honey.

“Honey in the Honeycomb,” from Cabin in the Sky
In the first of two songs with lyrics by John Latouche, sexy siren Georgia Brown struts her stuff as she revels in having lured Little Joe Jackson away from his highly religious wife, Petunia, in this 1940 Broadway hit. In this case, once again, food stands in for sex, as Vernon Duke’s music makes abundantly clear. I’m partial to “there’s stuffin’ in a squab.” Lena Horne got the song in Vincente Minnelli’s 1943 film adaptation, but star Ethel Waters, repeating as Petunia, who didn’t sing this on stage, made sure she got a reprise.

“Tomorrow Mountain,” from Beggar’s Holiday
Latouche employs a bevy of surreal imagery to describe paradise in this catchy up-tempo tune by Duke Ellington from their 1946 then-contemporary reimagining of John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera (also the basis for The Threepenny Opera). There is a “scotch and soda fountain” and “cigarette trees,” along with this out-there quatrain: “Pigs trot around already roasted/Won’t you have a slice of ham?/Marshmallows bloom, already toasted/And the clouds are made of marmalade and jam.” The interior rhyme in that last line is decidedly tasty. No OBCR was recorded, as the show only ran for three months, but Lena Horne took this tune to the bank on her 1957 album Stormy Weather.

“The Candy Man,” from the film Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
Is candy food? It offers empty calories, I know, but we eat it, so I say that it is. And here are four songs about it, starting with Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley’s monster 1971 hit, which Sammy Davis Jr. popularized (it’s included on his album Mr. Bojangles). Ironically, it is sung in the movie by a relatively unknown actor, Aubrey Woods, who in a small supporting part is actually playing a confectioner.

“Toot Sweets,” from the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
“A bonbon to blow on at last has been found!” trumpet Dick Van Dyke and Sally Ann Howes as inventor Caracatus Potts and candy heiress Truly Scrumptious in the 1971 film musical based on Roald Dahl’s children’s classic. Shockingly, the soundtrack CD is out of print and isn’t available digitally, but you can hear Michael Ball and Emma Williams toot their edible flutes on the cast recording of the 2002 London stage adaptation.

“Penny Candy,” one from New Faces of 1952 and one from No for an Answer
In the first, a revue song by June Carroll (lyric) and Arthur Siegel (music), a “jaded” rich woman nostalgically remembers “when I was a little girl poor and plain” and thought a piece of penny candy was the fanciest treat imaginable. Carroll herself introduced it on Broadway. Marc Blitzstein also wrote a song called “Penny Candy,” in which a con man tells a rich woman how his life has been ruined by his addiction to the stuff. It’s from his 1941 musical play No for an Answer, which had to wait until 2001 to get a full stage production, at San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater. William Sharp sings it on Marc Blitzstein: Zipperfly & Other Songs.

“Make an Omelette,” from Something Rotten!
Nick Bottom is a Renaissance playwright who is so jealous of the success of William Shakespeare that he goes to a soothsayer to find out the name of Shakespeare’s next hit. The soothsayer mishears Hamlet as Omelette, and so Nick writes this tune for his musical about the egg dish while arguing with his collaborator brother about not writing from the heart. There are actually many more plot complications, but I haven’t got room for them all. Let’s just say that this 2015 musical by Karey Kirkpatrick (book, music, and lyrics), Wayne Kirkpatrick (music and lyrics), and John O’Farrell (book) was exponentially silly.

“Pink Fish,” from Big Apple Country
Alan Menken made an early splash with this 1976 piece of special material he wrote for a cabaret revue. In it, an astonished would-be actor from Texas first encounters bagels and lox. You can hear Sammy Goldstein’s exuberant rendition on his album So Far It’s Wonderful. Even better, you can see Menken tell the story behind the song’s creation and perform it himself on the late, lamented PBS TV show “Theater Talk,” in a clip on YouTube.

“Sara Lee,” from And the World Goes ’Round
I don’t know who first sang this piece of special material by John Kander and Fred Ebb, written at the beginning of their long collaboration, though I know that one of its first interpreters was Kaye Ballard, who sang it on TV on “Perry Como’s Kraft Music Hall” around 1962. A paean to the popular commercial bakery brand known especially for its pound cake, the song finally found a home in a show in 1991 in the off-Broadway revue And the World Goes ’Round, which introduced the world to the talents of director Scott Ellis and choreographer Susan Stroman. That, however, didn’t stop Liza Minnelli from including the song in her 1992 show Liza Live From Radio City Music Hall.

“I’d Order Love,” from First Date
This is the only song in my list that doesn’t explicitly name-check a foodstuff. Instead, it uses the way we talk about food (“delicious,” “well-seasoned,” “rare,” “spicy” “steaming,” “hot,” “juicy,” you get the idea) to fantasize about love. I didn’t see this 2013 Broadway musical with a score by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner, but I gather it all took place in a restaurant on a first date between a couple played by Zachary Levi and Krysta Rodriguez. This song, however, was sung by Blake Hammond as their waiter. It sort of brings the column full circle, from food as love to love as food.

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Jan
11

Food,Glorious Food

Rodgers and Hart wrote the song “I’ll Have a Little of You on Toast” for an obscure radio mini-musical featuring Helen Morgan. All I can say is, the song’s quality is equal to its title.

But food and drink commemorated in song have long been metaphors for the human condition. Think of the song that’s the title of this column. The workhouse boys in Oliver! eating their gruel dream of their idea of a feast. No, not the beef Wellington of the upper classes but only something simple -- hot sausage and mustard. Songwriter Lionel Bart knew of what he was writing. He was one of seven children and food wasn’t exactly plentiful as he grew up. His father was a tailor and his workshop was the garden shed behind their house. So even “pease pudding and saveloys” sounded good to young Lionel when he was young. By the way, “pease pudding” is a pudding made out of split peas and “saveloys” are bright red boiled sausages.

The Italian farmers and ranchers of the Napa Valley in California have more on their minds. They celebrate the grape harvest with a “Sposalizio!” where the wine is flowing and the smell of mozzarella is in the air. But another character in Frank Loesser’s The Most Happy Fella views food in distinctly another way. For Cleo, a waitress in a little café with aching feet only sees the “seven million crumbs.” And she’s not talking about the patrons of the café—or is she?

To others, namely Gertrude Lawrence and Jack Buchanan in Charlot’s Revue, a simple shared meal is heaven. They sing, “A Cup of Coffee, a Sandwich and You.” (You can hear her delivering it on The Incomparable Gertrude Lawrence.) The Joseph Meyer, Al Dubin, and Billy Rose song title was inspired by a line in the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, "A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread--and Thou. "

Sometimes it’s not the food that’s the object of affection. It’s the meal itself. At least it is for Snoopy as he extols the glories of “Suppertime” in Clark Gesner’s You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. And in Company, Stephen Sondheim proposed a toast to “The Ladies Who Lunch.” He also commented to Richard Rodgers’ music on the disgusting meals on airplanes with the song, “What Do We Do? We Fly!” from Do I Hear a Waltz? Remember when you’re flying, “Anything that is brown is meat” and “Anything that is gray, don’t eat.”

Drinking is also celebrated throughout the history of musical theatre and even flop shows can have hit songs.

“How Does the Wine Taste” was covered by Barbra Streisand and other lesser lights. The song came from a Pancho Villa musical, We Take the Town that starred Robert Preston. Harold Karr and Matt Dubey wrote the score. You may know them from the Merman vehicle, Happy Hunting.

The Student Prince has perhaps the greatest drinking song, aptly titled “Drinking Song.” Sigmund Romberg and lyricist Dorothy Donnelly had a big hit with the song and the show. And the mega-team of George Gershwin, Herbert Stothart, Oscar Hammerstein II, and Otto Harbach wrote the song, “Vodka” for the 1925 hit Song of the Flame. Obscure, yes. But the great Dorothy Loudon memorably sang it on television. And you should definitely stop right not and view it on YouTube!!

Well, now we’ve gotten hungry and thirsty so we’ll sign off and run to the kitchen or, as New Yorkers do, call up for delivery.

 

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Jan
11

God, That's Good....

Happy New Year! It's the time for resolutions, and on many people's list is dieting or eating healthier. Being playful, I thought it might be fun to have Erik and Ken think about songs that center on food or cooking. If you've put such a goal for yourself on the docket for 2019, I hope their columns will inspire you to keep your resolution and, if not, I know you'll find they're talking about a delightful array of songs. 

To complement Erik's and Ken’s columns, I'd like to offer up the following two albums for your consideration: 

  • Sunday in the Park With George - A baker's artistry (and the fact that he makes himself emotionally available) is what lures Dot away from Georges in the first act of this show, and nothing beats Bernadette Peters' delivery of "Everybody Loves Louis," as her character sings the praises of her beloved baker.
  • Best Little Whorehouse in Texas - This is a cast recording I've not listened to in a while. I had forgotten how much fun it was and also its moments of genuine poignancy. It's a song in the latter category that makes it apt for this week's eating theme: "Hard Candy Christmas."

Remember, if you need to add any of the recordings mentioned here and in the guys' blogs to your collection, you can find links to them in the carousels on the BwayTunes.com homepage. 


You might want to have a snack or two handy when you fire up this week's Spotify playlist. It's filled with songs about eating, cooking, and food. But maybe the hour or so of music will simply send you into a reverie, and so additional noshes won't be necessary.


Who doesn't enjoy getting away from it all? This week we've got a free download track that takes you on a bit of an excursion, and it comes to you from the delightful new album Chip Deffaa's Irving Berlin Travelogue.


Take a look at the marvelously diverse array of new music that we've gotten for you, particularly:

  • Band Geeks: The Musical - You'll find some giddy merriment at work in this tuner that's finally come to disc. A romp through the world of high school marching bands, Band Geeks sets toes a-tappin' and mouths a-smilin' from start to finish.
  • The Dancing Years - A rare treat awaits listeners with this new, complete recording of Ivor Novello and Christopher Hassell's 1939 operetta about a man who's in love with two women. Swirling melodies and gorgeous vocals abound on this beautifully assembled studio cast album.

In addition to these albums, you’ll want to check out these new releases, which can be found in the main carousel at the top of the home page and in the “New and Recommended” one at the bottom of the page.

  • Brigadoon - Kelli O'Hara and Patrick Wilson are both in fine voice on this beautiful recording of Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner's classic musical. We're all very happy to have a recording of this Encores! presentation.
  • "Loser Geek Whatever" - In anticipation of the Broadway bow of Joe Iconis' Be More Chill, the producers have released this nifty EP featuring three different versions of one of the show's terrific tunes.
  • Broadway My Way - Heather Headley, Tony winner for Aida, reinterprets such classics as "Over the Rainbow," "Look to the Rainbow," and "Home" on this lush new recording.
  • The Greatest Showman Reimagined - P!nk, Kelly Clarkson, Sara Bareilles, and Kesha are just some of the artists featured on this album that brings you new versions of the songs from the hit movie that starred Hugh Jackman.
  • Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - Imogen Heap's Drama Desk Award winning score for the epic theatrical adventure featuring J.K. Rowling's renowned boy wizard has been marvelously transformed into four suites for this new recording. 
  • Will He Like Me? - Philip Chaffin lends his voice to over a dozen classic Broadway tunes and, in the process, creates a moving song cycle.
  • Singing You Home - Conceived by Laura Benanti, and featuring artists such as Josh Groban, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Audra McDonald, this bi-lingual children's album is a fundraiser for a very worthy cause. Proceeds from the album sales will go directly to the non-profit organizations RAICES and ASTEP to help reunite and support families separated at the border.
  • Head Over Heels - The Go-Go's hits from the early 1980s meet an obscure Renaissance narrative poem in this merry lark of a Broadway musical. It's a giddy and toe-tapping retro listen.
  • Pretty Woman - The first hit of the new 2018-2019 season is this musical based on the popular 1990 movie. Andy Karl and Samantha Barks tackle the roles originally played by Richard Gere and Julia Roberts, and the infectious score comes from Brian Adams and Jim Wallace. Definitely worth a listen!

When you get the next newsletter, you'll find that I've sent Ken and Erik scurrying back some fifty years.

They'll be doing another entry in what's becoming a popular, ongoing series here on BwayTunes: a look back at the musicals of a specific decade. In a couple of weeks the guys will be reflecting on their favorite shows from the 1970s.

It was an interesting 10 years for musical theater, filled with some intriguing flops and some genuinely groundbreaking shows. I know I'm going to be curious to see what the guys pick.

I know one that would be at the top of my list: John Kander, Fred Ebb, and Bob Fosse's Chicago.

 

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Dec
07

Seasonal Things 2018

I asked Ken and Erik to go "seasonal" for their columns this week, and they have gone in two entirely different directions. Both are terrific pieces of writing about some swell music, and I think each will make you smile.

To complement Erik's and Ken’s columns, I'd like to offer up the following two albums for your consideration: 

  • Norm Lewis Christmas Album - This Broadway leading man lends his supple voice to a host of favorites on this just-out album. There are also some clever (and entirely appropriate) surprises. I think you'll enjoy.
  • "All I Want for Christmas"- Telly Leung has recorded this lovely version of a holiday-time favorite to help raise money for the nonprofit ASTEP. The organization's great work centers on bringing the arts into the lives of young people from underserved communities in the U.S. and around the world to awaken their imaginations, foster critical thinking, and help them break the cycle of poverty.

Remember, if you need to add any of the recordings mentioned here and in the guys' blogs to your collection, you can find links to them in the carousels on the BwayTunes.com homepage. 


I've stuck with traditional for this week's Spotify playlist. It's about one hour of seasonal favorites from stage and screen musicals, along with other songs offered up by some of Broadway's finest performers.


We've got an utterly delightful track for you to listen to as this week's free song download. It's a marvelous tune called "Noël, Noël" that's been curated on the new two-disc set Lost West End: The Revues.


Take a look at the marvelously diverse array of new music that we've gotten for you, particularly:

  • Brigadoon - Kelli O'Hara and Patrick Wilson are both in fine voice on this beautiful recording of Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner's classic musical. We're all very happy to have a recording of this Encores! presentation.
  • "Loser Geek Whatever" - In anticipation of the Broadway bow of Joe Iconis' Be More Chill, the producers have released this nifty EP featuring three different versions of one of the show's terrific tunes.

There have also been a host of new holiday albums that have come out in recent weeks, including the two I mentioned above as well as Steve Ross’ It’s Almost Christmas Eve, Michael Longoria’s Merry Christmas Darling, and Gigi Bermingham’s Cabaret Noël.

In addition to these albums, you’ll want to check out these new releases, which can be found in the main carousel at the top of the home page and in the “New and Recommended” one at the bottom of the page.

  • Broadway My Way - Heather Headley, Tony winner for Aida, reinterprets such classics as "Over the Rainbow," "Look to the Rainbow," and "Home" on this lush new recording.
  • The Greatest Showman Reimagined - P!nk, Kelly Clarkson, Sara Bareilles, and Kesha are just some of the artists featured on this album that brings you new versions of the songs from the hit movie that starred Hugh Jackman.
  • Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - Imogen Heap's Drama Desk Award winning score for the epic theatrical adventure featuring J.K. Rowling's renowned boy wizard has been marvelously transformed into four suites for this new recording. 
  • Will He Like Me? - Philip Chaffin lends his voice to over a dozen classic Broadway tunes and, in the process, creates a moving song cycle.
  • Singing You Home - Conceived by Laura Benanti, and featuring artists such as Josh Groban, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Audra McDonald, this bi-lingual children's album is a fundraiser for a very worthy cause. Proceeds from the album sales will go directly to the non-profit organizations RAICES and ASTEP to help reunite and support families separated at the border.
  • Twelfth Night - Songwriter Shaina Taub's songs for the Public Theater's recent production of Shakespeare's romance got some terrific reviews. The production had a very short run, so we're lucky to have this album that allows all of us who missed it to enjoy Taub's exceptional tunefulness.
  • Head Over Heels - The Go-Go's hits from the early 1980s meet an obscure Renaissance narrative poem in this merry lark of a Broadway musical. It's a giddy and toe-tapping retro listen.
  • Idina: Live - Broadway's original Elphaba, Idina Menzel, sounds pretty fantastic on this recording that features some pop classics and some great musical theater tunes, including a number from the tuners she has starred in.
  • Pretty Woman - The first hit of the new 2018-2019 season is this musical based on the popular 1990 movie. Andy Karl and Samantha Barks tackle the roles originally played by Richard Gere and Julia Roberts, and the infectious score comes from Brian Adams and Jim Wallace. Definitely worth a listen!
  • Gettin' the Band Back Together - There's a gleeful rock sound at work in this Broadway cast recording. It's an album that's full of some unexpected pleasures.
  • Hundred Days - The Bengsons’ quirky off-Broadway show comes to compact disc with verve on this new cast recording!

The holiday season is upon us! And theoretically you'd be getting our next newsletter just two days before Christmas. I wanted to give Erik and Ken a holiday gift, and so I told them they could take the rest of the month off.

This means you'll be getting our next newsletter just as you've started dealing with your New Year's resolutions.

For some people the top of such a list is about eating healthier or dieting, so it seemed only appropriate to have the guys pen columns about songs centered on food as we begin 2019. One of my faves is "I Can Cook Too" from On the Town.

I'll close by wishing you the happiest of holiday seasons and look forward to sharing more great music with you in 2019.

 

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