IF YOU ONLY KNOW THE MOVIE MUSICAL… By Peter Filichia
It happened again this week.
I met Marie, who lives in Alaska – Alaska, Pennsylvania – who’s been reading me since the days of THEATER WEEK. During lunch, my first question was, “So, how did you get interested in musicals?”
Once again, the answer was one I receive from people who live in such places as Philly (meaning Philadelphia, Illinois), Boston (Georgia) and Baltimore (Vermont).
“Movie musicals,” she said.
Ah, bless them all!
(Well, all right, not “all,” but many.)
However, many film musicals dropped a tune or two (or seven) that Broadway audiences had savored. Such decisions kept Marie from hearing “The Love of My Life” from BRIGADOON, “Washington Square Dance” from CALL ME MADAM and “It Couldn’t Please Me More” from CABARET (although that one IS heard as lyric-less incidental music). Even the soundtrack albums couldn’t right this wrong.
If you call Broadway your home – but Broadway, North Carolina, that is – you, too, may have missed great songs that were cut when Hollywood got its hands on musicals. Getting the original, revival or studio cast albums would right that wrong.
“Something Was Missing” went sadly missing from the 1982 film of ANNIE. Actually, Charles Strouse’s melody had already been heard in a film – in 1968, when THE NIGHT THEY RAIDED MINSKY’S had an up-tempo song called “You Rat, You.” Lillian Hayman, who we know as the Tony winner from HALLELUJAH, BABY!, sang it there; Martin Charnin, ANNIE’s lyricist, turned it into a most tender ballad.
In BELLS ARE RINGING’s film, “Long Before I Knew You” was inexplicably eradicated; Dean Martin, the film’s leading man, would have crooned it very well. On the cast album, it’s sung by Sydney Chaplin, who won a Tony. That’s even more impressive when one considers that he competed against Stanley Holloway, who had two dynamite numbers – “With a Little Bit of Luck” and “Get Me to the Church on Time” – in MY FAIR LADY.
The film also cut “Salzburg,” a funny cock-and-bull**** story that Eddie Lawrence delivered on stage. (Jean Stapleton, who became famous in the ‘70s through ALL IN THE FAMILY, has a few quips in it, too.) Lawrence would have been represented by another Masterworks Broadway album if KELLY, the musical for which he wrote book and lyrics, had run substantially longer than its one performance in 1965. Columbia Records did have the recording rights, and, according to an article in The Saturday Evening Post, even had printed its jackets, ready to go.
Why was “Together Wherever We Go” canned from GYPSY? The public knew it from countless duets sung on TV’s then-popular variety shows. It also got a reasonably well-liked recording warbled by four lads who were professionally known as The Four Lads.
And yet, considering the even-greater popular success of “A Bushel and a Peck” in GUYS AND DOLLS, its elimination from the film is even more maddening. A full month before the smash hit opened, Perry Como and Betty Hutton released a recording that stayed on the charts for months, peaking at Number Three. As Chris sings in MISS SAIGON, “Why, God, Why?”
Granted, “Good Morning, Baltimore” gets HAIRSPRAY off to a good start. “The Nicest Kids in Town” is equally catchy. But at the Neil Simon Theatre, “Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now” is the one that convinced the audience that this was going to be a great show. Shouldn’t those in cinemas and at their home theaters have had the same experience?
Cast albums allow you to hear INTO THE WOODS’ “No More,” tick, tick … BOOM’s! “Green Green Dress” (which was stripped from the film) and NINE’s galvanizing “Be on Your Own.”
NINE’s movie adaptation endured much criticism, but not nearly as much as A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC’s. Perhaps “Liaisons” would have made it seem even pokier, but “The Miller’s Son” would have been stirring. If you don’t know it, find out that there was more to Petra the maid than met the eye – both eyes, in fact – let alone the ears.
In THE KING AND I, “Shall I Tell You What I Think of You?” is Anna’s outburst at His Majesty. In the midst of her fury, she does admit, “Giving credit where it’s due, there is much I like in you.” Moreover, Anna does fondly muse about “the children, the children,” whom she’s come to love. If the film of CAROUSEL could offer us a “Soliloquy,” THE KING AND I movie should have done the same.
The film of BYE BYE BIRDIE made Albert a budding biochemist. Thus, we couldn’t expect Rosie to sing “An English Teacher,” a most delightful patter song that was heard on Broadway.
True, “biochemist” scans perfectly with “English teacher,” so the song could have been retained with the new occupation. But the BIRDIE film was aimed at teens, so a song that references Geoffrey Chaucer, William Morris and Phi Beta Kappa might have alienated them. For that matter, teens seeing the film probably didn’t even want to hear the word “teacher,” not when they had been paroled from school less than a week before the summer hit opened.
By the way, when Charles Strouse was running the ASCAP Musical Theatre Workshop, he told students what his acid test was for liking a song. “If I were at a cocktail party,” he’d say, “and a person came up to me and said what I’d just heard you sing, would I want to continue talking to him or her?”
Hmmm, if a woman came up to Strouse and frenetically said “His going in the army is the best thing he could do. Now we’re free to start to do what we wanted to. Albert, Albert, Al-Al-Al-Albert!” Charles might very well say, “Uh, would you excuse me?” and head for the bar with the speed of summer lightning.
That said, “An English Teacher” is the right song for Rosie at that moment in time. It’s worth your time, too.
In HAIR, ”Dead End” seems to be a mere list song: “Don’t walk … keep out … hands off … All trespassers will be shot.” No, there’s more going on here; the incessant commands remind us that we’re subject to so many rules in our daily lives. Lyricists Gerome Ragni and James Rado were informing us that there were far too many.
Jud’s pitch-black point of view of his “Lonely Room” in OKLAHOMA! must have struck the moviemakers as much too dark for the reasonably sunny ‘50s. You’re better off discovering it on the 1979 revival cast album instead of the 1943 original cast recording. Why? Alfred Drake, who played Curly, sang it, despite that fact that it isn’t his song. Hearing the voice of Curly makes us infer that we’re seeing a sinister side of our hero.
Or is he a hero? To be frank and fair, the way Curly treats his nemesis in “Pore Jud (is Daid)” shows there’s more malevolence there than we might have suspected.
Who’d think that any SWEENEY TODD wouldn’t include “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd”? Its first sentence – “Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd” – is fine advice on two levels: “attend” means “pay attention,” which is easy to do at Sondheim’s masterpiece, and “attend” also means “be there,” which we all should do for any worthy production of SWEENEY TODD.
Although those who brought HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING to the screen eventually eliminated “Paris Original” and “Coffee Break,” they were filmed and survived on the soundtrack. That’s how Marie knew them. However, she’s missed “Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm,” “Love from a Heart of Gold’” and “Cinderella, Darling.” They all have great worth – as do all the others cited here.
Peter Filichia can be heard on www.broadwayradio.com. His new book The Book of Broadway Musical Debates, Disputes and Disagreements can now be pre-ordered at Amazon.