The Oh-So-Complete Lyrics of Alan Jay Lerner By Peter Filichia
You know the expression “to dot the i’s and cross the t’s” – the one that describes utter thoroughness?
With the publication of The Complete Lyrics of Alan Jay Lerner from Oxford University Press, editors Dominic McHugh and Amy Asch have done such a meticulous job that the expression must be expanded.
These two have metaphorically not only dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s, but they’ve also dotted the j’s, too.
McHugh and Asch have included every lyric from Lerner’s thirteen Broadway musicals, three films and three musicals that went unfinished. Juvenalia, songs written for Harvard’s Hasty Pudding Shows and other odd ditties are now in print, too.
Lyrics and lines added to movie versions of Lerner’s Broadway shows can now be gleaned, right down to the song that was earmarked for On a Clear Day You Can See Forever’s supporting actor Jack Nicholson.
(Yes! Imagine Jack Nicholson singing! Perhaps after those on the film heard him try, that’s when the song was eliminated.)
In fact, every song that Lerner dropped along the way is entered into evidence down to ones he discarded at home. We can easily infer why he decided that My Fair Lady’s “Without You” shouldn’t settle for “I can thrill to a play without you; take a bath every day without you.”
Ones cut during rehearsals, out-of-town tryouts and previews? McHugh and Asch got them. They are so scrupulous that they show us a two-line reprise of “Rumson” in Paint Your Wagon – one that that was cut before Broadway, yet.
There had to be times when Lerner had to be frustrated by the excisions – such as when “Come to the Ball” was removed from My Fair Lady in New Haven. For isn’t Higgins’ observation to Eliza — “When you enter, every monocle will crash” – too good to lose?
Then there are the lyrics that were sanitized for the original cast albums. In RCA Victor’s Brigadoon, you hear Meg sing in “My Mother’s Wedding Day” the line “And till today, the folks declare it was a mess beyond compare.” If you’ve ever wondered “What mess?” you learn that these lines were purposely meant to obfuscate that Meg’s parents married after they’d had their daughter. The actual lyrics that were heard at the Ziegfeld Theatre about the wedding were “It was a sight beyond compare; I ought to know for I was there.”
At least Lerner had the chance to write an alternate lyric. On the cast album of Paint Your Wagon’s “In Between,” his last line was censored – which killed a terrific joke. Read it here.
McHugh and Asch even note the times when a singer sang the wrong lyric in the recording studio but no one stopped to correct it. That’s understandable for cast albums are usually allotted one day and no more, so accidents will happen. See what Olga San Juan got wrong in Paint Your Wagon and what Richard Burton muffed in Camelot.
Even the footnotes show how hard these editors worked. “The punctuation in this number is editorial,” says one. When authors take time to comment on a comma, you know they’ve done exhaustive research.
Hence the cover credit says that McHugh and Asch “edited with annotations.” And what annotations! The Lerner and Loewe hit that went out-of-town and didn’t drop or add a single song was only their third-biggest success: Brigadoon, the musical in which Tommy decides to do the time warp again.
We find that for the tour of Paint Your Wagon “They Call the Wind Maria” was reassigned from a minor miner to main character Ben. McHugh and Asch even point out Lerner’s recurring expressions. Seventeen years before he used “En brochette” in Camelot’s “Then You May Take Me to the Fair,” he employed it in 1943 for What’s Up, his first Broadway appearance with composer Frederick Loewe. Two years later in their The Day Before Spring he wrote “That Freud’s Beelezebubby: you must stay with your hubby.” He would go to the devil once again fifteen years later with “Beelezebubble” in Camelot’s “The Seven Deadly Virtues.”
Recycling in America began in earnest in the ‘90s, but as the editors explain, “The reuse of idioms and material is a common practice in the working lives of many artists from Jane Austen to Verdi.” So McHugh and Asch note that Paint Your Wagon had a dropped song called “What Do the Other Folks Do?” Anyone familiar with Camelot will immediately know that Lerner reused the concept, but few will know that Loewe adapted some of its melody into “Please Don’t Marry Me,” which was cut from My Fair Lady as well.
One line of Lerner’s 1937 ditty “You’re My Song” displays an inadvertent irony: “All through my life I’ve loved the sound of music.” So would many people after they saw the Rodgers and Hammerstein hit by that name. And, as McHugh and Asch point out, Lerner and Rodgers did work together for a while on I Picked a Daisy; it morphed into On a Clear Day You Can See Forever with Lerner but without Rodgers. In this book you can discover what that score’s “What Did I Have That I Don’t Have?” had and didn’t have when Rodgers was writing a melody for it.
Most arresting is a lyric from 1948’s Love Life that involves Rashomon. Husband Sam recalls details of his first date with Susan, his eventual wife: “It was late at night” he states, only to be corrected by Susan’s “It was six-fifteen.” The he tries “You were dressed in white” and she corrects “I was all in green.”
Sound familiar? The song’s title was “I Remember It Well,” just as it would be a decade later in Gigi, where Lerner gave it a reboot. There Honore sings to Madame Alvarez “We met at nine” to her “We met at eight.” A musicians’ strike prevented a Love Life original cast album, which must have bothered Lerner at the time, but not in the late ‘50s when he saw a chance to reuse the concept.
Have you ever wondered about those extra lyrics in “I’m Glad I’m Not Young Anymore” in the 1973 stage version of Gigi? They weren’t in the 1958 film, but were they written back then but discarded because they were considered too ribald? McHugh and Asch will tell you – as well as the reason why “The Parisians” was cut.
The editors teach a little about Loewe’s tendency to recycle, too. The melody for “In This Wide, Wide World” originally was heard as “There’s a Thing Called Love” from My Fair Lady. That show’s underscoring as Higgins, Eliza and Colonel Pickering arrived home after such a triumph at the ball was first part of What’s Up’s “Just Then” and later in the title song of The Day Before Spring. From the latter show, Loewe also reused a section “Where’s My Wife?” as the verse for the title song of Gigi. (“She’s a babe; just a babe,” etc.) And have you ever noticed that Loewe revised some of the melody of Paint Your Wagon’s “How Can I Wait?” for Camelot’s “The Simple Joys of Maidenhood”? The editors did.
McHugh and Asch also let us see Lerner the Man. Just as Sondheim is always knocking himself for having written “It’s alarming how charming I feel” in “I Feel Pretty,” Lerner constantly beat himself up for having penned “And all at once my heart took flight” in “I Could Have Danced All Night.”
All right, they can’t all be winners. But reading My Fair Lady’s “I’m an Ordinary Man” – where “Let a woman in your life” is employed eight times — we gain more respect for Lerner for using “strife” and “knife” to rhyme with “life,” but never the obvious “wife,” which would have most logically fit the theme of the song.
This is all the more remarkable considering that (and, yes, I’ve done a study on this) every a week of the 20th century had at least one “wife/life” rhyme in a Broadway musical. Although lyricists still reach for it all the time, Lerner may well have thought it too trite — and rightly so. Here was a giant, and this giant book proves it beyond any doubt.
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.