“Next week, on the twentieth of May, I proclaim Liza Doolittle Day!”
So sings Eliza Doolittle in her fantasy number “Just You Wait” in My Fair Lady. It’s a line that hasn’t been lost on many musical theater enthusiasts. For years, I’ve been receiving greeting cards or postcards that celebrate the day. Some people even have parties to commemorate it (or so I’ve been told; I’ve never been invited to any).
True, as the years have gone on, I’ve received more e-mails than snail mail (to the chagrin of both Hallmark and the U.S. Post Office). But not a Liza Doolittle Day goes by where I don’t hear from plenty of like-minded folks.
Did you catch that oblique reference to Merrily We Roll Along? That musical does, of course, include a song called “Not a Day Goes By” – a darned good song, in fact. Even after the musical had failed in two weeks’ time, not many days had to go by before cabaret artists were seeking its sheet music and singing it.
I know my friend Alvin Martin caught the reference. He’s a major musical theater enthusiast, to the point where he starts every Liza Doolittle Day by playing “Just You Wait” before segueing to other Broadway songs that deal with the word “day.”
His iPod playlist, of course, is a big help. In fact, when he got his iPod and thought of this idea, he sought my advice on which were the best “day” songs from Broadway shows.
And that was a tall order. After all, every day of the week has been commemorated by musical theater at least once: “Sunday” (Flower Drum Song), “First Thing Monday Morning” (Purlie), “Suddenly Last Tuesday” and “I Flew to Havana last Wednesday (both from Seven Comes Eleven, which Masterworks Broadway is in the process of re-releasing), “Sweet Thursday” (Pipe Dream), “Fridays at Four” (A Class Act) and the title song from Saturday Night (Marry Me a Little).
There are plenty of others that may not be as specific, but are still fully worth hearing. When I cast my three electoral votes to Alvin on the best songs that deal with days, they were (in alphabetical order):
“All the Livelong Day” (Working) – Stephen Schwartz captured the frustration of the average workaday man and woman. Considering that 2013’s Liza Doolittle Day is on a Monday – the start of the work week for most people – this would get their juices flowing, while also reminding them that many people have worse jobs than they.
“Been a Long Day” (How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying ) – While the original cast album is a stellar recording, it does only offer one rendition of this song; the 1995 revival cast album sports the reprise, too. So on the latter recording, you get to hear six different artists (headed by Matthew Broderick and Megan Mullally) do the complete version.
“The Day after That” (Kiss of the Spider Woman) – All right, the lyrics do seem repetitive; after all, the title phrase is stated no fewer than sixteen times. But that’s the point of this Kander and Ebb song: if we don’t accomplish something that we’d like to conquer today, well, there’s always the day after that.
“Day by Day” (Godspell) – Here’s Stephen Schwartz in a jauntier mood. In 1971, this song actually became a Top 40 hit and a best-selling single record. And who was credited as the recording artist? Simply “Godspell.” This was an attempt to let record-buying teens think that this was the name of a rock group, for if they knew it came from an off-Broadway show, they might have turned their rock-oriented noses up at it.
“A Gift Today” (I Can Get It for You Wholesale) – A lovely melody befitting a bar-mitzvah where friends and family give good wishes to the boy who’s become a man. Has there ever been a Broadway composer who better captured Jewish-flavored music than Harold Rome?
“The Great Come-and-Get-It Day” (Finian’s Rainbow) – Lyricist E.Y. Harburg was one of history’s great liberals who constantly lobbied and challenged for social justice. So, to a terrific Burton Lane melody, he set these principles forth by imaging “the time things’ll come your way,” before listing such items as a washing machine, waffle iron, juke box and even a helicopter. And yet, Harburg wasn’t one to simplistically advocate that people steal from the rich and give to the poor. Note the important lines that end the song: “We’ll keep it — and share it.”
“I Could Get Married Today” (Seventeen) — Willie Baxter is indeed seventeen, and his interest in girls has never been higher. He confides this in an old man, who tells him that he’d already taken a bride at Willie’s age. Just the thought of that spurs Willie to sing about the possibilities of his own marriage. Charming!
“I Don’t Think I’ll End It All Today” (Jamaica) – Considering how delightfully infectious Harold Arlen’s melody and E.Y. Harburg’s lyric is for this song, you’ll be convinced that suicide was never really in the minds of Lena Horne or Ricardo Montalban.
“I Think I May Want to Remember Today” (Starting Here, Starting Now) – We think of Queen Victoria as a dumpy and sexless woman, but Maltby and Shire remind us that she was once young and lovely – and very much in love with the then-hunky Prince Albert. The tempo exhibits the excitement, delight and energy of falling in love.
“Nowadays” (Chicago) – “In fifty years or so, it’s gonna change, you know.” In fact, it took a substantially shorter time than that, but we still can console ourselves that more than 7,700 Broadway audiences have heard this wonderful song.
“Put on Your Sunday Clothes” (Hello, Dolly!) – My theory: if a musical opens with a good song (“I Put My Hand In”) and is followed by another good song (“It Takes a Woman”), that show is unstoppable if the third song is extraordinary – which “Put on Your Sunday Clothes” is. With this one, Jerry Herman gave the world the quintessential show song.
“The Shortest Day of the Year” (The Boys from Syracuse) – Richard Rodgers was famous for writing “wrong” notes that actually were the right ones to make an ear perk up and listen. Here the “wrong” notes occur on the word “year” in each of the first two lines of the song. And, oh, how right they are!
“What about Today?” (Starting Here, Starting Now) – Another Maltby and Shire gem, one so good that Barbra Streisand not only recorded it, but also chose it as the name of her album on which it appeared. Ms. Normand in Mack & Mabel suggested that “Time Heals Everything,” and indeed it does – but until it does, the rage continues, especially in this fierce song.
“A Wonderful Day Like Today” (The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd) – In 1965, when this Anthony Newley-Leslie Bricusse show had its Broadway debut, this song opened virtually every TV variety show from The Andy Williams Show to The Bell Telephone Hour to The Hollywood Palace to The Entertainers. (Everything, in fact, except Hullabaloo.) It’s still well worth hearing, for it harkens back to the era when musical theater expressed non-stop optimism: “Put on a Happy Face,” “(You Gotta Have) Heart,” “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” and “Climb Ev’ry Mountain.”
“The World Is Beautiful Today” (Hazel Flagg) – When musical theater expressed non-stop optimism, Part II. Add this lesser-known but poignant Jule Styne-Bob Hilliard song to the above-stated classics. You know the drill: you’ve got to have a dream; if you don’t have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true?
Of course, there are many others, although some would better serve other times of the year. “Independence Day Hora” (Milk and Honey) is a good one for April 16, a national holiday in Israel, where the Jerry Herman tuner takes place. “Beethoven Day” (You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown), is more apt for Dec. 17 for obvious reasons. A week after that, play “Christmas Day” (Promises, Promises), which Burt Bacharach and Hal David must have thought would be a perennial. That hasn’t happened – yet, but you could do your part to see that it does.
My runners-up included “Another Day” (Hallelujah, Baby!), “Bandana Days” (Shuffle Along), “Boho Days” (tick, tick … BOOM!), “Can You Use Any Money Today?” (Call Me Madam), “Every Day Is Ladies’ Day with Me” (To Broadway with Love), “Getting Married Today (Company), “Gonna Be Another Hot Day” (110 in the Shade), “Guess Who I Saw Today” (New Faces of 1952) “Happy Birthday” (from both I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road and Zorba), “How Beautiful the Days” (The Most Happy Fella), “I Do Not Know a Day I Did Not Love You” (Two by Two), “It’s a Lovely Day Today (Call Me Madam), “It’s Today” (Mame), “It’s Your Wedding Day” (The Wedding Singer), “A Lovely Day to Get out of Jail” (The Life), “Many a New Day (Oklahoma!), “Marry the Man Today” (Guys and Dolls), “Not Every Day of the Week” (Flora, the Red Menace), “Once-a-Year Day” (The Pajama Game), “Those Were the Good Old Days” (Damn Yankees), “Till We Reach That Day” (Ragtime) and “Today Is the First Day of the Rest of My Life” (Starting Here, Starting Now).
Don’t forget that in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, two “day” songs are part of the same cut: “Payday” is immediately followed by “Mine ‘Til Monday,” one of the great unheralded opening numbers. I won’t say anything else, lest I spoil it for you.
After I submitted my list to Alvin, he pointed out that I might not have given him enough selections to fill a day. I responded that he could always listen to the entire scores of Darling of the Day, Half-Past Wednesday, The Last Sweet Days of Isaac, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever and Sunday in the Park with George. Of course, with all those, he might not have enough time to listen to them all on Liza Doolittle Day. But just you wait, Alvin Martin, just you wait: tomorrow is only a day away.