LITTLE KNOWN FACTS FROM A TO Z By Peter Filichia
One of the most delightful songs in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown is “Little Known Facts,” in which Lucy explains to Linus that a fir tree gives fur; elms grow into oaks; clouds make the wind blow and seven other pieces of mis-information.
I hope I’m more accurate than Lucy in detailing what I believe to be little-known facts about musicals. Because we’re at the end of the year, when we traditionally examine our year from A to Z, I’ve put them in alphabetical order.
And the World Goes ‘Round — The Kander and Ebb revue includes “Arthur in the Afternoon,” which many believe was first heard in the 1977 Liza Minnelli vehicle The Act. Actually, it originated in the 1962 A Family Affair as “Mamie in the Afternoon,” with a melody by Kander before his collaboration with Ebb. The lyrics were co-written by the Goldman Brothers: James, the future librettist of Follies, and William, who wrote the definitive Broadway book The Season. To this day, no one’s said which brother wrote what.
Barnum — Our title character sings that he’s “The Prince of Humbug.” Why not the king? Because lyricist Michael Stewart was referencing The Prince of Homburg, an 1811 German play.
Camelot – Because Jacqueline Kennedy told historian Theodore H. White that her husband, assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963, loved listening to the cast album of Lerner and Loewe’s 1960 musical, Camelot has become associated with the short-lived John F. Kennedy administration. The irony is that Nov. 22 has another Lerner and Loewe association – for on that date in 1945, their second collaboration, The Day before Spring, opened. (More on this show later.)
Darling of the Day — Was Jule Styne’s favorite melody “Let’s See What Happens,” which he wrote for this? A case can be made that it was, for every time I attended a shindig in which Styne was brought to the stage, he played nothing from Gypsy, Funny Girl, Bells Are Ringing or Gentlemen Prefer Blondes but instead opted for this lovely waltz.
Ernest in Love — Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest, says that “I do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance.” Anne Croswell told me that if she hadn’t been ignorant of Oscar Wilde’s play — which she happened to see on TV — and knew of its august reputation, she wouldn’t have dared to adapt it into a musical. And aren’t we glad she possessed that ignorance?
Follies — I have an April 27, 1966 letter from Hal Prince — of course I wrote him first to ask a few questions; he certainly didn’t write me out of the blue — in which he states “I am not involved in the Sondheim-Goldman musical about a couple of ex-Ziegfeld girls taking stock many years later of their lives.” Aren’t we all glad that he changed his mind?
Gigi — The melody to the verse of this Oscar-winning title song — “She’s a girl! Just a girl! etc.” – was first used in the aforementioned The Day before Spring. There a long-married woman meets her old flame at a college reunion — causing her husband to sing “Where’s my wife? Where’s my wife?” to the melody cited above.
Hello, Dolly! — We all know “The Man in the Moon (Is a Lady)” from Mame, but Jerry Herman had originally written it for his earlier smash. A Harmonia Gardens entertainer would sing it as chaos erupted around Vandergelder’s missing wallet.
Into the Woods — Josh Ellis, in his excellent one-man show Call My Publicist, tells of being the press agent for this 1987 Sondheim musical. As usual, the esteemed composer-lyricist was working until virtually the last midnight writing songs – including “Last Midnight” for Bernadette Peters. Unfortunately, the opening night Playbill listed the song as “Lost Midnight.” Ellis had to call Sondheim to break the bad news. See the show to learn Sondheim’s reaction.
Jane Eyre – Sony Classical was so anxious to release this Paul Gordon score that it printed the CD booklets early; thus, they state that the show opened on Dec. 3, 2000. But after the booklets went to press, the powers-that-be decided on another week of previews. So cross out the “3” in your booklet and change it to “10.”
Kismet — Many musicals have title songs, and this Tony-winner does, too — in a manner of speaking. For the Wright-and-Forrest musical has a song called “Fate” – and that’s what the Arabic word “Kismet” translates into English.
Li’l Abner – The producers must have been very pleased at Peter Palmer’s performance in the title role, but if they’d had their druthers, they would have preferred the person they pursued who just wasn’t interested: Elvis Presley.
Mame – Has any other musical dropped a song out of town, replaced it, and then re-instated the original song? For Philadelphia, New York and everywhere else heard Mame proclaim “That’s How Young I Feel” while Bostonians listened to her grouse “Do You Call That Living?”
Now Is the Time for All Good Men – Don’t believe everything you read. The leading lady of the 1967 anti-war musical was not Sally Niven, but Gretchen Cryer, the bookwriter-lyricist. She believed three credits were one too many on one show, so she adopted this pseudonym.
Once upon a Mattress – I can’t say for certain that this is fact, but Marshall Barer, the phenomenal lyricist on this 1959 musical, assured me that the song “Sensitivity” was the first-ever show song written in 5/4 time.
Peter Pan – When James M. Barrie first put pen to paper, he had the subtitle “or The Boy Who Hated Mothers” – and actually had Mrs. Darling and not Mr. Darling double as Captain Hook. If he’d kept it that way, who would have been a good Hook vs. Mary Martin? Dolores Gray? Susan Johnson? Gwen Verdon? The mind boggles!
“Quintet” – During this glorious Bernstein-Sondheim piece in the West Side Story film, when Tony walks next to a brick wall, you’ll see to his left (if you look carefully) a three-sheet for …
Redhead — Even more prominent is one for the lesser-known 1960 musical Christine.
Silk Stockings – When long-playing records ruled the audio world, many original cast albums had gatefold “double” covers. They were most associated with Columbia, which did fifteen of them between 1959 (The Sound of Music) to 1964 (Bajour) – but RCA did the first one with this Cole Porter musical.
Take Me Along – The original production of Bells Are Ringing (924 performances) ran 13.59 times more than its revival (68 performances). The original Finian’s Rainbow (724) bested by 60.33 times its 12-performance revival. But the champ may always be Take Me Along, whose 1959 Tony-nominated bested its 1985 revival by a 448-to-one margin, because the original ran 448 while the latter ran – well, you know …
Urinetown – This sleeper hit ran 965 performances, but it would have amassed
976 had it opened on its originally scheduled date: September 11, 2001. Although it resumed performances on Thursday, September 13th along with the rest of Broadway, it waited a week to officially open on September 20th.
Via Galactica – This space-age musical, set in 2972 (1,000 years in the future), had thousands of ping pong balls, dozens of trampolines – and seven performances. So RCA Victor, which agreed to do the cast album (undoubtedly because its composer Galt MacDermot, had made the company a lot of money from Hair), opted out. If the show could have run some months, we’d have a Masterworks Broadway album with us today.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? – When Goddard Lieberson recorded Edward Albee’s 1962 smash hit, did he include all the notorious profanity? Almost, but not quite: Lieberson drew the line at what Martha said after George came in and “shot” her with the umbrella-gun: “You bastard!” replaced “You prick!” Guess Lieberson must have considered that word …
Your Own Thing – After this show won The New York Drama Critics Circle Prize as Best Musical – the only off-Broadway show of the ‘60s to do so — it was sold to the movies for a whopping $500,000 – more than eleven times the original budget of $45,000. This made it, pro-rated, the most profitable stage-musical-to-movie-musical sale ever. Too bad the picture wasn’t ever made.
Zorba – Lila Kedrova is still the only actress to win a Best Featured Actress Oscar and a Best Featured Actress in a Musical Tony for the same role. The former happened because of her 1964 performance as Madame Hortense in the film Zorba the Greek and the latter occurred due to 1984 performance in the Kander and Ebb musical.