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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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