MORE SEPTEMBER SONGS By Peter Filichia
On Tuesday, I turned on the TV and just came in at the end of some TV commercial – I don’t even know what it was for – and heard the familiar strains of a song I’ve long admired.
I had the same experience on Wednesday, although this time I heard even less of the song.
Too bad, for I like “Feeling Good,” which Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse wrote for their 1964 musical THE ROAR OF THE GREASEPAINT – THE SMELL OF THE CROWD.
Back then, the show was to play London, and then, if all went well, come to Broadway, as a few handfuls of British hits already had.
All did not go well. ROAR/SMELL was an utter out-of-town disaster. It closed in the hinterlands and avoided the West End altogether.
And yet it made it to Broadway the following year. True, producer David Merrick said he would only do it if Newley would star (he hadn’t in the tryout; Norman Wisdom did). Newley acquiesced and the Shubert was booked.
ROAR/SMELL’s score was chock-a-block with songs that stepped out of the show and onto the charts. “Who Can I Turn To?” and “A Wonderful Day Like Today” permeated TV’s variety shows. “The Joker” took longer to catch on, but when it did, it sold plenty of copies.
But as magnificent as all of those are, “Feeling Good” has passed the test of time.
First to record it was Lena Horne, although it was decidedly on the record’s B-side. The A-side was reserved for the title song of PLEASURES AND PALACES, the new Frank Loesser musical because United Artists, her recording company, had the rights to the cast album.
And just as ROAR/SMELL had closed out of town, PLEASURES AND PALACES did, too.
Nina Simone also recorded “Feeling Good” in 1965, but nearly 30 years had to pass before her rendition had any real impact. And that came from a Volkswagen TV commercial.
The song’s advertising career was just getting started. It’s easily become the best-known song in the score thanks to H& M, Honda, Dreher Beer, Mazda, Virgin Atlantic, American Eagle Outfitters, the University of Mississippi baseball team and Jockey Underwear. Even a company called Warehouse in New Zealand has used it. Jennifer Hudson sang it for Weight Watchers, too.
Makes sense; most every company wants to suggest that its product will make you feel good.
It’s just one of the songs in September that has crossed my mind or crossed my path.
Getting a press release from Blackfriars Theatre in Rochester that promotes its current production of GUYS AND DOLLS reminded me of a certain day in Newark when I was waiting for a bus.
In the distance I saw a brick building with big white letters near its top. They were faded, but I could still make out “Joseph Hollander: “Furs.”
So THAT’S what Miss Adelaide was singing about when informing a lust-filled man to “Take back your mink” and “go Hollanderize it for some other dame.” Newark was where you went to buy or have refurbished and dyed fur coats from muskrat to – yes – mink.
September 20 marked the sixty-first anniversary of the opening of IRMA LA DOUCE. Thinking about that excellent original cast album with Elizabeth Seal (who beat out no less than Julie Andrews for a Tony) had me thinking of “The Freedom of the Seas.”
This terrific 6/8 song has French escapees from Devil’s Island musing that “Like Kon-Tiki we sail over the seas — some riff-raff refugees.”
Don’t you love the use of three different vowels in “riff,” “raff” and “ref”? After that, though, you may ask, “What’s Kon-Tiki?”
In 1947, explorer Thor Heyerdahl wanted to prove that pre-Columbian South Americans could indeed have sailed to Polynesia even on a balsawood raft (which was about as high-tech as you could get in the fourteenth century).
Heyerdahl built a 30-foot-by-15-foot raft, called it Kon-Tiki in honor of a Peruvian sun god, found four others who’d join him and set off on a journey.
It took 101 days to get to Polynesia from South America, but they did it. That’s more than we can say for IRMA’s escapees. This delightful ditty reveals that no matter how much paddling they do, they’re getting nowhere, which they know because they see “Martinique at least once a week.”
And last week marked the ninety-fourth anniversary of NO, NO, NANETTE. Most of us think it’s younger than that because of its wildly successful 1971 revisal. In fact, its triumph spurred the vogue for revivals on Broadway.
The title song is toe-tapping good, but we have to be grateful that album producer Thomas Z. Shepard then led into the finaletto with some amusing dialogue.
Young Nanette’s beau Tom is furious with her for committing one no-no after another. What are her next potentially scandalous plans, he wants to know. “None of your beeswax,” Nanette tells him using an expression much heard in the mid-20s. Tom’s angry retort: “Then you can go,” he says before pausing.
Today we know the two words that would follow that would never be confused with “Happy birthday.” No, what was on Tom’s mind is “Then you can go — fly a kite!”
Last week marked the sixty-sixth anniversary of the closing of HAZEL FLAGG, a most underrated score by Jule Styne, who this time was working with Bob (“Our Day Will Come”) Hilliard. It’s the musicalization of NOTHING SACRED, the 1937 film in which Carole Lombard played the title character, a young woman whose doctor informed her that she had very little time to live.
A New York magazine editor takes pity and arranges for Hazel to lether have one last fling in the Big Apple. Then the doctor finds out he made a mistake and Hazel is as healthy as Achilles with no Achilles heel.
But how can Hazel pass up a trip to the big city? In the February-to-September span that HAZEL played, WISH YOU WERE HERE, WONDERFUL TOWN, ME AND JULIET, NEW FACES OF 1952 and PAL JOEY were all on Broadway. Wouldn’t you keep the truth from everyone just so you could catch those hits?
The show’s best-known song is “Every Street’s a Boulevard in Old New York.” It’s a soft-shoe love letter to the city; in it, the mayor sings “Those bridges and buildings will never come down.”
But since HAZEL’s closing, New York has lost the original Pennsylvania Station, the Singer Building and The Astor Hotel. (It’s been fifty-three years since anyone’s been pinched in the Astor Bar.)
Add to the list the loss of such wonderful theaters: Empire (home to LIFE WITH FATHER), 54th Street (ON THE TOWN), Morosco (SIDE BY SIDE BY SONDHEIM), Playhouse (SIMPLY HEAVENLY) and the original Helen Hayes (PERFECTLY FRANK) and Ziegfeld (KISMET).
HAZEL FLAGG also has a great eleven o’clock number in “Everybody Loves to Take a Bow,” which was sung by that New York magazine editor played by Benay Venuta. It was dropped from the film, but most everything was, even the title: LIVING IT UP was the new moniker.
“Every Street’s a Boulevard in Old New York” stayed, though; Hollywood wasn’t that crazy.
The film changed the sex of two characters: Jerry Lewis became Homer Flagg and Fred Clark became the editor. The funny thing is that Clark’s replacing Venuta had to cause at least some trouble in his domestic life; he was married to Venuta at the time.
And if there’s a Broadway show song for that situation, I haven’t run into it this September or in any other month.
Peter Filichia also writes a column each Monday at www.broadwayselect.com and each Friday at www.mtishows.com. He can be heard most weeks of the year on www.broadwayradio.com.