By Peter Filichia
Last week, while writing about The Mikado, I started thinking that I, like Ko-Ko, should make a little list, too.
The Best Musicals? Too trite. The Best Cast Albums? A little better, but how about something more specific – such as The Two Dozen Best Songs Added to Musicals?
Now we’re talkin’!
For as unbelievable as it may seem, there was a time when Annie Get Your Gun didn’t contain “Anything You Can Do,” and Wildcat didn’t sport “Hey, Look Me Over.”
Those songs, however, were added during rehearsals. What I’d like to concentrate on are those songs that were not in place at the first public performance — be it in Philly, Boston, Baltimore or the first New York preview. So, if I may cast my three electoral votes, here’s my little list of The Two Dozen Best in reverse order:
24. “I’m Past My Prime” (L’il Abner). To paraphrase Irene O’Dare, Daisy Mae got the daisiest song when she got to express what it’s like to be an old maid teenager.
23. “Grand Hotel” (Grand Hotel). As much as I loved the show as it was in Boston, I never complain when someone adds a memorable title tune. Maury Yeston did just that with this broodingly evocative song.
22. “Honest Man” (Bajour). See what I wrote two weeks ago for my rationale on why this is a great 11 o’clock number.
21. “In Praise of Women” (A Little Night Music). “Bang!” was the original song in this spot in Boston, but it soon got shot down in favor of the most beautiful melody ever delivered by a totally self-indulgent creature.
20. “The Late Late Show” (Do Re Mi). What a great idea — our not-so-grand anti-hero Hubie Cram must convince his partners that he’s threatening his nemesis. But he’s scared to death of the guy! So by quoting Edward G. Robinson and Jimmy Cagney’s on-screen browbeating warnings, he appears to be getting tough with him.
19. “Where You Are” (Kiss of the Spider Woman). Of all the shows I’ve seen shutter in tryout and then try again, none remotely reached the heights of this show. This lively song for Chita Rivera was one of the reasons for its success.
18. “A Little Brains, A Little Talent” (Damn Yankees). Richard Adler once told me that “Mr. Abbott ordered Jerry (Ross) and me to write a song that would introduce the character of Lola with a bang. We wrote it overnight, and were very disappointed when Gwen (Verdon) didn’t immediately like it. After a long pause, she told us, ‘King’ and ‘Siam’ don’t rhyme.’ It took her a while before she saw the interior rhymes. Once she did, though, she was on her way.”
17. “The Rhythm of Life” (Sweet Charity). How well I remember that opening night at the Palace when the audience burst into applause after those “Doobie-doobie-doos” came in. The reason? At the time, there was a wildly popular group called The Swingle Singers who took that precise non-verbal approach with classical music. Not, though, any more felicitously than displayed here.
16. “Children and Art” (Sunday in the Park with George). Here’s a nice rebuttal to all those who say that Sondheim doesn’t write with emotion.
15. “Do You Love Me?” (Fiddler on the Roof). Don’t you love when Broadway songwriters find a subject that’s never been musically explored before? How DO spouses from an arranged marriage feel when they see their children employ a new-fangled idea: marrying for love? Sheldon Harnick told us.
14. “I Got Love” (Purlie). As Melba Moore tells the story, people just kept coming up to composer Gary Geld, lyricist Peter Udell and director-producer-co-bookwriter Phil Rose to say that the girl had to have another song. All took to the suggestion, and delivered the piece of material that ensured Moore’s Tony. When I saw the show’s penultimate preview, the song still wasn’t listed in the program.
13. “This Nearly Was Mine” (South Pacific). Others will put this higher, of course, but I’ve never been as much of a love-ballad man. So though it’s a classic, notching it right around the halfway mark seems right to me.
12. “Something Wonderful” (The King and I). Ditto.
11. “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” (Promises, Promises). Take it from one who saw the Boston tryout before this song was added. As wonderful as the song is — perfect for the mood and moment — the already-terrific show didn’t need it. But we’re all still very glad it’s there.
10. “Before the Parade Passes By” (Hello, Dolly!). You’d think that a guy who’d already written a whole show called Parade would have thought about writing this first-act closer. Nevertheless, Jerry Herman eventually got the job done, although we’ll never really, really know if it was with or without a little help from his friends.
9. “Wendy” (Peter Pan). Of course, once Styne, Comden, and Green joined the show in California, everything they added was superb, but this soft-shoe was especially charming. And yet they wrote an even better song, which we’ll come to in a while.
8. “You’re Just in Love” (Call Me Madam). Can you say quodlibet? That’s the technical musical term where two independent and harmonically complementary melodies are played separately and then together. It’s an Irving Berlin specialty; listen to “An Old-Fashioned Wedding” in Annie Get Your Gun while you’re at it. We have Ethel Merman to thank for this one, for she said to Berlin, “Give me a song with the kid” – meaning Russell Nype. And, oh, did Berlin oblige!
7. “Edelweiss” (The Sound of Music). We’re not getting sentimental here because it’s Oscar Hammerstein II’s final lyric. The song also happens to be beautiful, perfect for the moment, and gave Captain Von Trapp something that was all his, a significant moment that reiterated what was in his psyche long before Maria changed so much of him.
6. “I’m Goin’ Back” (Bells Are Ringing). Here’s my favorite 11 o’clock number of all-time. Impossible to believe, isn’t it, that the show went to New Haven without it. But musical director Milton Rosenstock once assured me that the story told so many times was true: Styne, Comden and Green just didn’t have their big finish, and Judy Holliday was getting mighty steamed. After many a false start, it was Styne who noticed that a line that Ella had in the first act — “I might as well be back at the Bonjour Tristesse Brassiere Company” – was getting enough of a laugh to spur a song. He wrote the opening phrase, both music and lyric, and played it for his collaborators. “Yes!” screamed Green, and by day’s end, they had their closer.
5. “Comedy Tonight” (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum; available on Jerome Robbins’ Broadway). Could one song have made so much difference? I asked both Sondheim and co-bookwriter Larry Gelbart, and both assured me that, yes, this song was all it took to change the show from flop to hit. Show doctor Jerome Robbins made a ton of good suggestions in his time, but this might be the best of them all.
4. “Getting to Know You” (The King and I). If you see South Pacific now, you’ll feel the moment when Lieutenant Joe Cable once came forward and sang “Suddenly Lucky.” Lucky for The King and I, however, that it was dropped there – and that Mary Martin remembered it and suggested it to R&H as a possible song for their new show. Even so, it needed Hammerstein to know precisely what lyric to write to Rodgers’ felicitous tune.
3. “Neverland” (Peter Pan). Here’s the Styne, Comden, and Green masterpiece promised earlier. It just may be the most beautiful melody that Styne ever composed.
2. “Oklahoma!” (Oklahoma!) So good, they had to re-name Away We Go! so this could be the title tune. The funny thing is, it wasn’t written with harmony until Celeste Holm suggested that it should be. They couldn’t say no to her.
1. “I’m Still Here” (Follies). Here’s the ultimate survival anthem. During the Boston tryout I heard that Sondheim was replacing “Can That Boy Foxtrot!” I couldn’t understand why he’d drop such great song. He certainly showed me why.