BUT SOMETIMES YOU’RE LOCKED INTO RHYMES By Peter Filichia
Last week we talked about lyricists who, when they needed a rhyme to fill out a line, might well have changed or invented a character’s name to match it.
Really, were Drake and Mrs. Pugh the names of the butler and housekeeper that bookwriter Thomas Meehan had already written into Annie before Martin Charnin wrote, “When you wake, ring for Drake … when you’re through, Mrs. Pugh …”?
Because we never knew the actual names of Daddy Warbucks’ servants, Charnin could invent them – and get his rhymes while he was at it.
For the most part, though, the practice seems to happen more in original musicals. Among the examples that I gave last week were lyrics from If/Then, Hair, On a Clear Day, Brigadoon and Follies – all original (or ostensibly original) musicals. And only after writing the piece did I remember another example from another original: David Zippel rhymed Buddy with bloody in City of Angels.
Lyricists have much more latitude with start-from-scratch musicals; those who adapt genuine classics can’t change the names of such icons as Huck Finn, Jean Valjean or Don Quixote. Those dozens of wordsmiths who have musicalized Alice in Wonderland might have been inclined to make the point that “she’s quite a girl,” but they couldn’t suddenly change the show’s title to Pearl in Wonderland.
You might think that Carolyn Leigh invented Belle’s last name in Little Me as “Shlumpfert” just to rhyme it with “comfort” in the marvelous show-stopping “Deep Down Inside.” No, Patrick Dennis in his (hilarious-beyond-belief) novel invented this name for his (anti?) heroine.
As for “Elegance” in Hello, Dolly!, Jerry Herman (or Bob Merrill, if you care to believe rumors) inherited the names Cornelius Hackl and Barnaby Tucker from Thornton Wilder’s The Matchmaker. We get the former’s name as a rhyme in the very first two couplets of the song: “Hey, New York, it’s really us: Barnaby and Cornelius. All the guests of Mister Hackl are feeling great and look spectac-u-lar.”
(You knowwwww, that latter rhyme is indeed the type that Merrill loved: “Kid, my heart ain’t made of marble, but your rhythm’s really har’ble” … “I’m a monster, I am mis’rable, and I’m glad it’s plainly visrable” … “And there’s nothing worse’n to know that a person is not” … et al.)
(You do the literary math.)
There was a time when Li’l Abner was one of the nation’s most-read comic strips, so Johnny Mercer had to take the names he was given. In the opening song, set to Gene de Paul’s lovely waltz “A Typical Day (in Dogpatch, U.S.A.),” Mercer rhymed Daisy Mae’s first and last name (Scragg) as well as Marryin’ Sam, Earthquake McGoon and Moonbeam McSwine (a part, incidentally, that Cherry Jones performed in high school; if you ask her nicely, she’ll gladly sing to you the six lines she had in the song).
Lorenz Hart, when musicalizing Shakespeare’s 1594 hit The Comedy of Errors into The Boys from Syracuse, had to find a rhyme for Dromio which wasn’t difficult at all: “Romeo” from the Bard’s most famous play would obviously serve in the verse of “This Can’t Be Love.” It all seems fortuitous and right, but under further inspection, Hart made an anachronism. Comedy takes place around 1 B.C. while Romeo and Juliet, according to most scholars, took place in the year it was first produced — 1,596 years later.
When Sheldon Harnick was writing The Apple Tree, he certainly couldn’t replace the names of the title characters of “The Diary of Adam and Eve.” Harnick structured Adam’s song “Eve” so that he’d only need two rhymes: perceive and believe. Later he had Snake assure Eve that if she takes a bite of that “not forbidden fruit” (as he terms it), “Madam, Adam will be overjoyed.” I certainly smiled when I heard it, because I inferred that Harnick was referencing that famous palindrome: “Madam, I’m Adam.”
Harnick, many would say, was dealing with historical characters. Those who do have little leeway. In order to get a rhyme, Tim Rice couldn’t suddenly write about Evita Garcia any more than Sherman Edwards could refer to Benjamin Frankfort.
When Irving Berlin planned to end his 1950 political musical Call Me Madam with a campaign song, he might have had a problem rhyming Eisenhower. Fortunately for him, though, the then-undeclared presidential candidate was already known as Ike. So “They Like Ike” already had a rhyme in its very title even before Berlin got into the body of the song where her inserted mike and bike, too. Rhyming Harry (as in Truman, then the sitting president) was just as easy, what with carry readily available.
Perhaps even luckier were Robert Wright and George “Chet” Forrest when they were writing Kean – meaning Edmund Kean (1787-1833), that great 19th-century Shakespearean star. For their gloriously beautiful opening number, they had a merchandise seller (yup, they had them then) hawking “hugest pictures of Edmund Kean in Hamlet, Lear and Cymbeline.”
One can’t have any serious discussion about lyrics before the words Stephen and Sondheim show up. You might think in A Little Night Music’s “A Weekend in the Country” that Sondheim made the servant “Petra” so he could rhyme it with “et cet’ra.” No, in Smiles of a Summer Night, the film that spurred the magnificent musical, Petra is indeed her name.
With Assassins, Sondheim had no wiggle room, what with presidents and their nemeses on the premises. Finding rhymes for Wilkes, Booth and Guiteau wasn’t so hard, but don’t you just adore what he did in “How I Saved Roosevelt”?
There Sondheim told us that had would-be assassin Giuseppe Zangara succeeded in his mission, the nation would “have been left bereft of F.D.R.” – rhyming left and reft with not just the first initial of the president, but the second one, too – pronounced effed.
And then there was the musical version of the play The Great Adventure, which Arnold Bennett adapted from his own novel Buried Alive. There the hero was named Ilam Carve (I swear it), but as time went on and films were made of the property, he became Priam Farll.
In the spirited opening number that E.Y. Harburg set to Jule Styne’s music, we heard that “Priam Farll is now the darl-ing of the day.” The question that comes to mind is, “Did they get the title of the show – Darling of the Day — from that lyric?” Those who know that the show was originally called Married Alive through its Toronto and Boston tryouts may assume that the song came first and the title was changed to reflect it.
Well, perhaps that is the explanation, but that song (actually entitled “He’s a Genius”) wasn’t yet written when the show opened in Canada or Massachusetts.
Given that most of Darling’s creators are now gone – we’re close to the show’s fiftieth anniversary, after all — we’ll never know if the title came from the line or the line came from the title. Whatever the case, at least Farll and darl rhymed perfectly.
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.