By Peter Filichia
During his long career, Ed Ames only made two appearances on Broadway. In 1962, he took over for Jerry Orbach as Paul the puppeteer in Carnival; then in 1963, he originated the role of Chief Bromden, the tortured soul who became the title character of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
But in a manner of speaking, Ed Ames made two more Broadway appearances. Not long after both stage stints, Ames went into RCA Victor’s fondly remembered Studio A in New York to record two albums: Opening Night in 1963 and More I Cannot Wish You in 1966. Masterworks Broadway has now re-released these long-out-of-print recordings on one CD and, of course, digital download. The songs span thirty-seven years from “Without a Song” (from the 1929 musical Great Day) to two then-current hits from 1966’s Mame.
While we can’t claim that Ames’ rendition of Carnival’s “Her Face” here is an original cast performance, it can justifiably be called a replacement or even national company performance. Ames spent much of 1963 touring in Carnival, with Susan (Bye Bye Birdie) Watson as his leading lady.
More I Cannot Wish You took its title from the tender song that Frank Loesser wrote for Arvide, Sarah’s doting relative, in Guys and Dolls. How well Ames finesses the song’s trickiest lyric: “and the lickerish tooth.” Over the years, many have questioned the word “lickerish,” insisting that Loesser must have meant “licorice.” The Complete Lyrics of Frank Loesser begs to differ. Still, Ames makes the word sound enough like “licorice” to forestall any argument among self-proclaimed lyric-detectives.
This may be the first opportunity you’ve had to hear two songs from an unrecorded Broadway show. If the best laid plans of nice men had gone smoothly, RCA Victor would have recorded the original cast album of The Student Gypsy or The Prince of Liederkranz with Eileen Brennan and Dom DeLuise. Alas, the second musical written by Rick (Little Mary Sunshine) Besoyan opened on September 30, 1963 and called it a life after October 12 of, sad to say, the same year.
But in those days, recording companies that held the original cast album rights were intent on getting the music out there even before the show went into rehearsals. They’d have their artists make seven-inch, 45 rpm “singles,” although they actually contained one song on each side. Once Student Gypsy didn’t yield a cast album, many show music collectors plunked down between eighty-nine and ninety-eight cents to get Ames’ single of “Somewhere” and “My Love Is Yours.”Those who didn’t get it in time were assuaged when Opening Night gave them a second chance by including both.
Besoyan’s show was an operetta spoof, as one can tell from its character names: Muffin T. Ragamuffin, Elsie Umlaut and Edelweiss Glockenspiel. And yet, Ames with his pleasant baritone sings both songs straight. Happily, they work in that sincere context, too.
Of course there was an original cast album of 110 in the Shade – and a mighty terrific one at that – but no matter how many times you play the disc, you won’t hear “Pretty Is.” This was one of more than 100 songs that composer Harvey Schmidt and lyricist Tom Jones wrote in advance, so that during the Boston and Philadelphia tryouts, when tyrannical producer David Merrick demanded a new song, they wouldn’t have to write one on the spot.
“Pretty Is” was earmarked for Starbuck, “The Rainmaker,” who had just energized the population of this small, drought-ridden town with a promise of Biblical-level downpour. Most everyone believes him except Lizzie, the show’s heroine. So Starbuck tries flattery to charge her battery.
While the 1959 musical The Nervous Set could only muster 23 performances, it did produce a standard: “The Ballad of the Sad Young Men.” Ames was hardly the only one to record this song. In later years Roberta Flack, Shirley Bassey, Rickie Lee Jones and Petula Clark would tell the story of men who wouldn’t commit to relationships and squirreled themselves in bars where they drank their lives away. While this is often a complaint often heard more from females than males, Ames was one of the many men who tackled the song, following Rod McKuen’s lead and setting the tone for later recordings by Johnny Hartman and Boz Scaggs.
Think the vamp on track seven sounds as if Ames is about to launch into “Steady, Steady” from Bravo Giovanni? Nope, it’s “I Believe in You” from How to Succeed (at you-know-what). While Robert Morse on the original cast album or Matthew Broderick on the first revival cast album were singing to their reflections in mirrors, Ames makes clear that he’s offering support to someone who’s a good friend – or even more.
If you have a knowledge of Oliver! you probably have a tough time listening to Georgia Brown sing “As Long As He Needs Me.” As Nancy in this musical adaptation of Dickens’ Oliver Twist, she proclaims her undying love for a man who will soon make her die after verbally and physically abusing her for years. Much better is hearing Ames make it “As Long as She Needs Me” while stressing that he’ll be loyal to the woman he loves.
This isn’t the only song on the album to play with a pronoun. Ames also adds an “s” to one of Mame’s hit songs: “If She Walked into My Life.” This changes it from a song in which an aunt second-guesses how she handled her nephew to one where a man wonders what went wrong in his relationship with the woman he so deeply cared for. Of course, that means that Mame’s lyric in which she remembers “that boy with the bugle” had to be changed. Listen and hear how.
Although “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” was also written for a woman — as any schoolchild can tell you, it was sung by an on-stage nun – no pronoun needed to be changed for Ames’ powerful rendition. And speaking of The Sound of Music, Ames also does a song that Mary Martin introduced in Jennie: “Before I Kiss the World Goodbye.”
Martin notoriously made a stink over the lyric “Before I go to meet my maker, I want to use the salt left in the shaker.” She thought it smutty. Was there still a little Postulant Maria left in Martin from her previous show? We’ll never know, but what we do know is that Ames sings the lyric and doesn’t seem the slightest unnerved by it. (Yes, RCA Victor had the recording rights to Jennie, too, so Ames includes another worthy one from that Howard Dietz-Arthur Schwartz score: “Where You Are.”)
Despite the new title Ed Ames on Broadway, not every song comes from a Broadway musical. After all, here are two cuts from off-Broadway’s champion The Fantasticks: “They Were You” and of course Ames’ then-popular recording of “Try to Remember.” Try to remember that when The Fantasticks opened in 1960, it had the hardest time catching on. Helping it to a 42-year run was Ames’ recording which started out bombastically but became sensitive very quickly.
In addition to Ames’ noticing off-Broadway, he also included above-Broadway. “Rose of Washington Square” was first sung in Ziegfeld Midnight Frolic of 1920 presented on the roof garden that used to sit atop the Ziegfeld Theatre. Musical theater is famous for advancing the action, and in that spirit, orchestrator Frank Hunter takes “Rose of Washington Square” from a delicate start to ending it with a swinging ‘60s arrangement.
When Ames sang “The Trolley Song,” it was then a film song: one of the hits from the 1944 movie Meet Me in St. Louis. Only later would it be a Broadway show, albeit as a second-hand show tune, when Meet Me in St. Louis took the stage in 1989.
While a title Opening Night would seem to promise songs that made their home between 41st and 54th Streets, More I Cannot Wish You doesn’t guarantee the same. Hence, we have “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” and “Deserted Carousel,” which don’t remotely have any Broadway affiliation. But perhaps, as Avenue Q likes to say, “That’s only for now.” Someone is probably working on a jukebox musical that will include one or both of these pop songs.