When Pigs Fly: We Can Hear It, Anyway By Peter Filichia
What a shame.
So many of us were looking forward to the upcoming off-Broadway revival of When Pigs Fly at Stage 42.
Last week we learned that it wasn’t going to happen.
It was the victim of the reason most shows cancel their announced premieres: The Almighty Dollar.
There weren’t nearly enough of them.
The original production – officially named Howard Crabtree’s When Pigs Fly after its genius costume designer — was once a solid off-Broadway hit. It opened on August 14, 1996 and ran two years and a day.
En route, it was named Outstanding Musical Revue by the Drama Desk Awards, not to be confused with the Outstanding Off-Broadway Musical prize given it by the Outer Critics Circle. What’s more, it got a Special Citation from the Obies, which doesn’t all that often reward commercial productions.
Oh, well – at least Howard Crabtree’s When Pigs Fly is still represented by its original off-Broadway cast album. So, we’ll at least be able to hear twenty-one terrific songs, including one of the most delightful first-act closers that any musical has ever had.
It’s called “A Patriotic Finale,” which doesn’t tell you much – on purpose. Lyricist Mark Waldrop gave his oh-so-witty song one of those obfuscating titles that many show songs use to not give away an important joke.
To wit: My Fair Lady’s “A Hymn to Him” isn’t its logical title; “Why Can’t a Woman Be More Like a Man?” is. But that would spoil the fun that we get when Henry Higgins eventually asks the question in utter frustration.
“The Father of the Bride” in I Do! I Do! really should be called “My Daughter Is Marrying an Idiot.” That, however, would kill the laugh the song always gets when Dad begins the song with that line.
And of course there’s “Dance: Ten; Looks: Three” from A Chorus Line. That line is heard twice in the song, but “Tits and Ass” bests it by ringing in at eight. So why not call it “Tits and Ass”?
In fact, that was the song’s original title, but during previews, conceiver-director-choreographer Michael Bennett noticed that when Pam Blair delivered the three words, she wasn’t getting the laughs he’d anticipated. He realized that lyricist Ed Kleban’s big joke was given away in the program’s songlist. So, the song got a new name – which in fact was first “Dance: Ten; Looks: One” for a few previews.
In that spirit, “A Patriotic Finale” really should be called “You Need Us to Make the U.S.A.” And who, you ask, is “Us”?
One can only imagine the joy Waldrop experienced when the pink light bulb went off in his head and gave him the idea: the names of American states and cities contain a syllable or two that can be extracted to represent gays.
“You can’t take the ‘color’ out of Colorado” is the first example quickly followed “You can’t take the ‘Mary’ out of Maryland” – pronounced the way the delegates in 1776 say it. “Chicago with no ‘chic’ would be boring in a week … “You can’t subtract the ten percent from Tennessee.”
Waldrop took a few liberties: “You can’t take the ‘sissi’ out of Mississippi … Who will never be passé in old El Paso?” and “You can’t run the homos out of Oklahoma” cheats a little, too. But try not smiling when after the line you hear a cast member yell out “Yow!” to remind us of the title song of the first and still-longest running Rodgers and Hammerstein show.
For that matter, a little later, Dick Gallagher’s melody even homages a Richard Rodgers riff. But he doesn’t need to rely on that master composer to give “A Patriotic Finale” a most felicitous march-tempoed melody that’s as delightful as the lyric.
The conclusion? “You need us to make the U.S.A.” – which gives us an extra joke because you do indeed need the letters “U” and “S” to create that three-letter abbreviation “U.S.A.”
Just as witty is having the orchestration include a flute piping along in early American, Revolutionary War fashion. This reiterates the message that gays have been a no-doubt-about-it important all-American ingredient since the country’s beginning.
“So “Q.E.D., it’s as plain as A-B-C, you need us to make the U.S.A.,” the six-member cast sings. (Need help on Q.E.D.? Some know this rarely used abbreviation from Pangloss’ employing it in Candide’s “The Best of All Possible Worlds” before giving it in full: “Quod Erat Demonstrandum.” But Pangloss didn’t tell us what it means. For the record, the definition is “that which was set out to be proved has indeed been proved.”)
“Who will always know what’s new in New Orleans?” … “Utah could never be the Beehive State if the hairdressers went absentee” … “And you can’t have New York City without Queens.” And then there’s this slyly ribald lyric that’s a bit of obfuscation in itself: “You can try to take the ‘KY’ from Kentucky, though I doubt that you’ll get very far.”
All funny, but my personal favorite is, “And who’ll always keep Santa Fe?” (Waldrop once told me it was his favorite moment in the song, too.)
The cast challenges us with “Think of Provincetown, Key West and San Francisco. Without us, they’d be a lot more like Fort Wayne.” When that lyric rolled out in 1996, how I wished I’d been seated next to a gay resident from that Indiana city to hear his reaction – which, I’m sure, would have been a hearty laugh of recognition and a realization that he should consider moving.
“And remember this about us: America couldn’t do without us” – the same point very nicely made in Paul Rudnick’s witty 2006 play Regrets Only; there gays disappear for a day, and all chaos results. The color is taken out of substantially more than just Colorado and not just Utah loses hairdressers.
By the way, there are plenty of other terrific songs by Waldrop and Gallagher in When Pigs Fly. But you’ll probably be most taken with “A Patriotic Finale,” which I’d like to give yet another name: “Our Gay National Anthem.”
Peter Filichia also writes a column each Monday at www.broadwayselect.com and each Friday at www.mtishows.com. His book The Great Parade: Broadway’s Astonishing, Never-To-Be Forgotten 1963-1964 Season is now available at www.amazon.com.