THE ENCORE: ONCE IS NOT ENOUGH By Peter Filichia
Although “Always leave ’em wanting more!” has been a long-established and much-observed theatrical policy, there is a time-honored exception.
This came to mind after Michael Portantiere’s excellent concert presentation of THE BOYS FROM SYRACUSE last month. Leah Horowitz, Megan Styrna and Katie Dixon did a sterling rendition of “Sing for Your Supper” at the supper club known as Feinstein’s/54 Below. The night-clubbers who’d been applauding wildly all night wound up surprising themselves when they discovered that could clap even louder and harder.
So, the trio bounded on stage and gave us more of the song. Lest anyone suspect that the three had returned just to get some extra attention, Portantiere pointed out that Rodgers and Hart specifically wrote the encore as part of the show.
Indeed, this legendary composer and this almost-as-legendary lyricist were among the many, many songwriters who, when putting together a song, had a feeling that it was extra-special. They even dared to think that an audience would want to hear more of it.
So, they wrote more of it. When the musical was produced and performers solidly sold the song before exiting, the songwriters basked in the theatergoers’ coos of delight as the performers re-entered to give them a lagniappe.
The tradition is for an encore to have new lyrics – ones, its wordsmith hopes, will now garner an even better response.
Lyricists always save their best joke for last, and Fred Ebb certainly did when he wrote “The Grass Is Always Greener” encore for WOMAN OF THE YEAR.
Let’s not spoil the surprise for you; have a listen and you’ll laugh heartily at one line in the body of the song; then you’ll roar even harder when the same line is repeated in a different context.
(This is, by the way, the song that got Marilyn Cooper a Tony. Never mind that she was on stage for all of only one scene and one song. Quality, not quantity, remember.)
LI’L ABNER brings us to Dogpatch, where the values are substantially different from the rest of the world. Case in point: Dogpatchians celebrate “Jubilation T. Cornpone,” despite his non-stop failures as a military man. He was, we’re told, responsible for “Cornpone’s Disaster, Cornpone’s Misjudgment, Cornpone’s Catastrophe and Cornpone’s Humiliation.”
Here, too, lyricist Johnny Mercer saved his best joke for the final one in the encore: “There at Appomattox, Lee and Grant were present, of course. As Lee swept a tear away, who swept up back of his horse?”
The 1962 revival cast album of ANYTHING GOES – which allowed many to discover the 1934 show and make it a high school staple – gives us what the 1987 recording doesn’t: an encore of “You’re the Top.” It also sports updated lyrics (Mahatma Gandhi, out; Milton Berle, in.) While listening, you may wonder if Porter himself provided the new ones – he was still alive then – but you possibly might not notice because you’ll be caught up in the joy that Hal Linden and Eileen Rodgers dispense.
But some encores are content to just repeat lyrics, such as “It’s Never Too Late to Fall in Love” from THE BOY FRIEND. Perhaps songwriter Sandy Wilson just wanted to reiterate that May-December romances should be applauded not just once but twice.
Irving Berlin’s ANNIE GET YOUR GUN may be the musical with the most encores. First, Ms. Oakley offers many examples of how members of her family enjoy “Doin’ What Comes Naturally.” Annie also has plenty to say after she realizes “You Can’t Get a Man with a Gun.” What she doesn’t glean is that braggadocio doesn’t help getting one, either (which was true in those less enlightened times); thus, both in the refrain of “Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better)” and its encore, Annie frankly endeavors to best Frank. And need we add that “There’s No Business Like Show Business” gets an encore as well?
Then, for the 1966 ANNIE GET YOUR GUN revival, Berlin added another song that would get an encore: “An Old-Fashioned Wedding” Its addition helped make its cast album the best-ever recording of this glorious score.
“An Old-Fashioned Wedding” is what’s known as a quodlibet: Frank sings a song; Annie sings a different one; then he and she repeat each section as we discover that the two tunes delightfully dovetail.
The audience in which I was a part at the National Theatre in Washington, DC, demanded no fewer than six encores. (You read that right: six.) Ethel Merman and Bruce Yarnell happily obliged each and every time.
Even with a half-dozen extra chances to examine lyrics, the encores were so joyous that we didn’t worry what was being said: Frank wants a simple wedding in a chapel; Annie instead craves “a ceremony by a bishop” in “a big church.” Not since Cunegonde and Candide, who prove in “Oh, Happy We” that each has a very different idea of what marital bliss can be, has a couple been so mismatched.
(I give Annie and Frank six months.)
“I’m Glad I’m Not Young Anymore” from the Oscar-winning GIGI picked up an encore when the show came to Broadway in 1973. Honoré now made observations about illicit affairs, illegitimate children and erectile dysfunction. Did Alan Jay Lerner write these in the ‘50s but saw them scuttled by censors’ pointedly sharpened blue pencils?
No. As Dominic McHugh and Amy Asch taught us in THE COMPLETE LYRICS OF ALAN JAY LERNER, our lyricist wrote them for Broadway.
In HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING, Finch claims to be a graduate of the same college that World Wide Wickets president J.B. Biggley had attended. That’s enough for the boss to start warbling the school anthem “Grand Old Ivy” in which Finch sings along, albeit a beat behind.
Songwriter Frank Loesser knew enough to give his Biggley – one Rudy Vallee – the type of song that made him famous in the ‘20s. “Grand Old Ivy” was one they just had to do again. By that point, we wished we’d gone to school there, too.
The shortest encore may well be the most powerful: THE KING AND I’s “Shall We Dance?” After Anna and the King share their most glorious moment of bonding in a free-wheeling polka, they’re so exhilarated that they must repeat their dance, both to their delight and ours.
However, quite often in musicals, great exhilaration is followed by great devastation. Here, The Kralahome breaks in and tells The King that Lun Tha is dead and here’s Tuptim for your flogging pleasure.
That dire turn of events prevents any encore of an encore.
In BAJOUR, each Romany King blithely tells the other “I want to wish you lots of luck,” before both drop their voices an octave and mutter a sarcastic “Lots of luck.” Such utterances pepper each section of the song, but near the end, you won’t hear a certain two-word phrase repeated. It is on the rather crass side, so a just-starting-out Thomas Z. Shepard may have decided to play it safe. Composer-lyricist Walter Marks has told me that the semi-profane remark was indeed in the show, and you’ll have no problem inferring what it is in this marvelous eleven o’clock number.
Some years passed before many of us knew that GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES lyricist Leo Robin wrote a stronger profanity in his most entertaining encore for “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.” Carol Channing was denied the opportunity to do it on the 1949 original cast album, possibly because of the space limitations on so-called long-playing records, but probably because the encore would have then rankled many a listener.
So those who missed it on the recording of LORELEI, the 1974 revisal of the show, will find it on the 2012 revival cast album. You can hear it courtesy of Megan Hilty, who sparked one of the most inspiring casting ideas in decades: Hilty, whose character Ivy Lynn on the TV series SMASH had been endeavoring to portray Marilyn Monroe in the (mythical) musical BOMBSHELL, would now play one of Monroe’s most iconic roles for real.
And where did the encore of “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” show up? Naturally enough, when GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES was done at Encores!
Peter Filichia can be heard most weeks of the year on www.broadwayradio.com. His new book The Book of Broadway Musical Debates, Disputes and Disagreements can now be pre-ordered at Amazon.