Fifty-five years ago, audiences saw Charity Hope Valentine stuck in an elevator with Oscar Lindquist. As it turned out, she was the braver individual and helped calm down the claustrophobic.
As the title character of SWEET CHARITY, Gwen Verdon was marvelous – so what else was new? – in showing Charity’s concern for anyone in trouble. John McMartin got us to laugh at one of Neil Simon’s best lines. For after Charity tried to ease Oscar’s panic by asking the perfunctory “What’s your name?” she tried “And where do you live?” — to which he roared, while banging the walls with this fists: “In an elevator!”
Well, if I were stuck in an elevator and couldn’t have Charity to keep me company, I would at least hope that there’d be good elevator music while I awaited rescuing.
As wonderful as most Broadway Overtures are, they have a certain amount of heft and grandeur that might be too powerful for the jittery circumstances. Even Overtures as great as GYPSY, CANDIDE, ON THE TWENTIETH CENTURY, MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG, THE WHO’S TOMMY or the much too neglected GOLDILOCKS, GOODTIME CHARLEY, THE ROAR OF THE GREASEPAINT and THE ROTHSCHILDS might be awfully intense. No, let’s skip the first selection on most original cast albums in favor of something more soothing.
Oh — there’s one first cut of a cast album that’s worth selecting as elevator music for it offers no sturm and drang. This is “Eden Prelude” in THE APPLE TREE, the first musical that Jerry Bock and Sheldon wrote after FIDDLER ON THE ROOF.
The paradise of Eden is where Act One of the Tony-nominated musical takes place, as Adam and Eve get acquainted. So while being stuck in an elevator isn’t paradise, this Bock melody is. Eddie Sauter, one of Broadway’ best orchestrators, ordered a generous number of French horns playing softly that would make “Eden Prelude” most comforting for anyone in elevator distress.
A little more lilting but a piece that would be a welcome balm in any elevator is “The Return of the Animals” from CHILDREN OF EDEN, another musical with a Biblical theme.
The collaboration between John (LES MISERABLES) Caird and Stephen (too many hits to mention) Schwartz, like THE APPLE TREE, also deals with Adam and Eve, but only in Act One; the second half concerns Noah, his family and their (shall-we-say) pets?
CHILDREN OF EDEN received a recording after its 1991 world premiere in London, but just try finding a CD of it that works. Because of some technological miscue, virtually all albums quickly became unplayable.
So when the closest-ever-to-Broadway production occurred in 1997 – twenty miles west at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, NJ – the cast rushed into a studio to rectify the situation.
Whether the people who provide music for elevators have either the full two-disc set of CHILDREN OF EDEN or the “Highlights” album, they’d be able to program “The Return of the Animals,” for it’s on both. It’s played after Noah has landed on Mount Ararat.
Although it includes the sounds of lions and tigers and bears and other creatures, they’re not threatening noises; you can tell that the beasts, after nearly six weeks on a boat, are just happy to finally disembark and spread their wings and paws. Worry not; these divertissements don’t keep the melody from shining through.
When I attended CHILDREN OF EDEN’s recording session in New York, after “The Return of the Animals” had been laid down, I once again found – even after hearing it in both the London and Millburn productions – that I couldn’t quite identify what type of musical composition it was. “A gavotte?” I asked Schwartz.
“No,” he said, sounding shocked and disappointed that I could be so musically myopic. “It’s a bourrée.”
Well, how many times does a musical give us one of those?
I could never make that mistake with my next recommendation for an elevator-friendly selection, for “Gavotte” is the actual name cited on both the 1957 and 1965 soundtracks of CINDERELLA. Richard Rodgers’ melody would soothe any ruffled feathers while I was waiting for the fire department to release me.
(Here’s hoping that my rescuers would be on the job and not at a “Volunteer Firemen Picnic,” to cite the jaunty song in TAKE ME ALONG.)
Rodgers was more famous for his waltzes than his gavotte; even “Laendler” from THE SOUND OF MUSIC is in ¾ time (and would be soothing in a stuck elevator). But Frederick Loewe’s “The Embassy Waltz” from MY FAIR LADY would be welcome, too. Alas, it didn’t appear on the original recording in 1956 or even the London one in 1959, but it finally did make its first appearance on the 1976 revival cast album.
However, once the LP of the London cast album was transferred to CD, it included “The Embassy Waltz.” No, it wasn’t recorded by the orchestra that served the show at the (sadly lost) Mark Hellinger Theatre, but by Percy Faith and His Orchestra. Faith isn’t much remembered today, but he sold millions of records with his instrumental albums. He did eleven commemorating Broadway musicals including, of course, MY FAIR LADY, from which this selection springs.
Getting back to SWEET CHARITY, after its Overture comes some elevator-worthy music in “Charity’s Theme.” It started the show in which our heroine was introduced to us through dance (Gwen Verdon, remember). For the record – an expression that can be used both literally and figuratively here – that wasn’t the case with the original long-playing vinyl issue; the “Overture” started the first side and “Charity’s Theme” began the second. However, once the CD came into being, “Charity’s Theme” was put in its proper place directly after the Overture.
Wouldn’t it have been something if “Charity’s Theme” had been played in the elevator music in which Oscar and Charity were confined? She could have remarked with surprise “Hey! They’re playing my song!”
Well, once the fire department did arrive and got the elevator to descend, I’d be so happy I’d want to hear “The Rich Man’s Frug” (SWEET CHARITY), “The Riviera Rage” (IRENE), “Tick-Tock” (COMPANY) and especially “Jump for Joy” (THE GOODBYE GIRL) – all up-tempo fun selections.
These and any of the above-named selections would be fine elevator music – because they are all melodies that elevate us.
Peter Filichia can be heard most weeks of the year on www.broadwayradio.com. He’s a contributor to the new magazine Encore Monthly.