If you live in New York City, you’ve seen them — and they’ve probably made you smile.
They’re the electronic monoliths that stand tall on the streets of the east side, the west side and uptown and down.
A message comes up on an LED screen, stays for a number of seconds and then is replaced by a new message. All too often, a new message gives way to another before you’ve finished reading the one in which you’re interested.
Still, I was quick enough last week to learn from this electronic marvel that “The rose is the state flower of New York.”
Ah, rose! That’s fitting, for so many musicals that involve a rose in one way or another take place in the great state of New York.
Helen Gallagher won her second Tony Award for NO, NO NANETTE; part of the reason was her getting the show off to a good start by gloriously singing “Too Many Rings around Rosie” in the New York City home of James Smith (Jack Gilford).
Walter Kerr, in his rave for the show, called it “a song you may not remember but should not forget.” He also added that “it swiftly reminds you that Vincent Youmans was a composer rather than a tunesmith.” (So do the other marvelous songs in the 1925 hit that was repurposed into a 1971 smash.)
There’s a character named Rose in GEORGE M! (as in Cohan). So does she sing the felicitous “There’s a Ring to the Name of Rose” while the Cohan Family is traversing through New York state? No – a young Bernadette Peters as Josie Cohan sings the 1923 hit on the original cast album.
Nevertheless, you can hear the character of Rose, thanks to Loni (STARTING HERE, STARTING NOW) Ackerman, sing in both “Forty-Five Minutes from Broadway” and “So Long, Mary” — two better-known songs from the pen of George M.
A rose isn’t quite mentioned in the best song ever about flowers: “Hurry! It’s Lovely Up Here!” from ON A CLEAR DAY YOU CAN SEE FOREVER. Daisy Gamble (Barbara Harris) reveals to Dr. Mark Bruckner (John Cullum) in his Manhattan office that once she talks to her geraniums, peonies and rhododendrons, they grow with the speed of summer lightning.
To encourage them to rise from the dirt, she establishes “Life here is rosy” although she does amend that with “if you’re a posy” in Broadway’s quintessential charm song.
By the way, why doesn’t Bruckner immediately fall in love with Daisy right then and there? How can anyone not be impressed with someone who cares this much for living, breathing if silent organisms — ones that so many “millions who drift by” never notice?
Why does Bruckner save his affection for the person from whom Daisy was reincarnated – the now-you-see-her-now-you-don’t eighteenth century Melinda Welles? She is indeed elegant and does sing the beautiful “Tosy and Cosh.” Yet she never comes out with anything as original or compelling as “Hurry! It’s Lovely Up Here!”
And even if Bruckner were able to channel Melinda to totally replace Daisy, how would she maneuver through New York City? She’d be no match for crowded subways, too-fast bicyclers who speed to their deliveries or cabbies who talk on their cell phones instead of concentrating on their driving. Life with Melinda would NOT be rosy, tosy or cosh.
BYE BYE BIRDIE mostly takes place in Sweet Apple, Ohio, but there’s no denying that Albert Peterson fell in love with Rose Alvarez in his office at 1619 Broadway. “There’s one Rose sweeter than any that grows,” he believes, and he’s right – for Chita Rivera created her. If Roscoe, Dimitri Weismann’s major domo in FOLLIES had seen her or even heard Ms. Rivera on the original cast album, he’d undoubtedly say “No Rose can compare.”
The Kennedy Family has long enjoyed its compound in Hyannis, Massachusetts, but it was in New York City at the Upstairs at the Downtown Club where Charley and Mary and Frank sang about “Bobby and Jackie and Jack.”
Sondheim’s wit-infused song in MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG reminds us that there used to be little boites where young revuers wrote and sang topical songs. This one mentioned “Ethel and Ted and Eunice and Pat and Joan and Steve and Peter and Jean and Sarge and Joe and Rose,” which Sondheim cleverly followed with “And rows and rows and rows” of other friends and relatives that every American knew in 1960.
Another Rose shows up in another nightspot – in Harlem, where Nell Carter and Ken Page duet in “Honeysuckle Rose.” AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ was the first small show to win the Tony as Best Musical. Even to this day, no musical with as few characters (five) has ever snagged the top prize at the Tonys.
The street in question in STREET SCENE is, as librettist Elmer Rice described it in his Pulitzer Prize-winning play that spurred the musical-slash-opera, “in front of a walk-up apartment house in a mean quarter of New York.” Indeed, where hard-working young woman Rose Maurrant lives with her folks is quite far from Daddy Warbucks’ neighborhood.
Rose’s life will be terribly impacted by one parent murdering the other because of infidelity. Considering that the play was produced in 1929, that the adulterous party was the wife and not the husband was a shock to audiences; that situation probably still packed a wallop when STREET SCENE opened in 1947.
Although Rose is the show’s leading character, she doesn’t sing any of the first ten songs on the original cast album of the score (the first to win a Tony) by composer Kurt Weill and lyricist Langston Hughes. After that, however, you’ll hear her, courtesy of Anne Jeffreys, in five of the next ten.
Her rendition of “What Good Would the Moon Be?” is thrilling, as are her duets with Brian Sullivan as her love interest Sam Kaplan. “We’ll Go Away Together,” sung by Catholic Rose and Jewish Sam, can be seen as a precursor to Puerto Rican Maria and Polish-American Tony looking for “Somewhere” that will allow them to be in love and live in peace.
BABES IN ARMS is certainly one of Rodgers and Hart’s supreme achievements. The score includes “Where or When,” “I Wish I Were in Love Again,” “My Funny Valentine” and “The Lady Is a Tramp.” But let’s not forget the equally terrific songs sung by the character known as Baby Rose: “Way out West (on West End Avenue)” and “Imagine.” (The latter is easily the most underrated song in the tunestack.)
Mrs. Rose doesn’t have much to do in HELLO, DOLLY! Near the end of the first act, she runs into Mrs. Dolly Gallagher Levi and reminds our heroine how long she’s been away from New York. The casual remark triggers Dolly into realizing just how dormant she’s been since Ephraim’s death. That spurs her to sing the dynamic “Before the Parade Passes By” which brings Act One to a magnificent close.
The Rose that always immediately comes to mind to musical theater enthusiasts is the one in GYPSY. Frankly, if Gypsy Rose Lee hadn’t insisted that the musical adapted from her memoir be named in her honor, librettist Arthur Laurents might well have chosen ROSE as his title.
As Laurents was fond of saying, he had no particular interest in Gypsy Rose Lee until he was at a party and a woman said “I was once the lover of Gypsy Rose Lee’s mother.” THAT started him reading Louise Hovick’s memoir (not that he found anything like that in it).
True, Rose minimizes the city by snarling “New York is the center of New York” when Mr. T.T. Grantziger wants to give Dainty June and Her Farm Boys a booking on 12th Street rather than at his Palace. But Rose would eventually move uptown when her daughter becomes the headliner at Minsky’s Burlesque at the Republic Theatre on 42nd Street. (Now it’s the New Victory, where kiddie entertainment reigns instead.) Finally – well, at least for Louise – everything’s coming up roses.
Many other states celebrate many lovely flowers. Hawaii has the hibiscus, Massachusetts the mayflower and Wisconsin the wood violet. But not rose.