By Peter Filichia —
Well, it’s April, which makes me think of Company. Not just because it opened 41 years ago this month. Not just because it has a character named April.
But also, because in “Getting Married Today,” rain makes its presence known. And is there any month that we associate with rain more than April?
In 110 in the Shade, you know that the month isn’t April but the dog days of summer during “another hot day” when rain is desperately needed. Then Starbuck comes on the scene and sings “Rain Song” — a terrific piece of material. Seldom if ever has a verse been taken virtually verbatim from the source material’s dialogue (N. Richard Nash’s The Rainmaker). After composer Harvey Schmidt had skillfully set Nash’s words, he then segued into setting the lyrics for the refrain from his longtime collaborator Tom Jones. The result was such a bolt of lightning piece of material that you’d expect the rain to start falling right then and there. (Too bad that Starbuck wasn’t around in May, June and July of 1776 when it was hot as hell in Philadelphia. They could have used a Biblical-force rain.)
Listen to the “Rain on the Roof” recording that Betty Comden and Adolph Green sang in the landmark Follies in Concert in 1985. Also try the one in Jane Eyre, where our eponymous heroine finds the rain refreshing. Arthur Kipps in Half a Sixpence feels differently. “If the Rain’s Got To Fall,” he sings, in one of David Heneker’s more winning songs, “let it fall on Wednesday, Tuesday, Monday – any day but Sunday” – because on that afternoon he’s to meet the girl he’s pursuing. (Too bad he’s not living in Camelot, where the rain may never fall till after sundown.)
Sixpence was a big hit in London, where this song sported a less felicitous lyric; there Kipps mused about “sucking a sarsaparilla.” In New York, he was much more genteel in wanting to be “sipping a sarsaparilla.”
All right, Kipps’ date would be ruined if the rain had to fall, but a far greater tragedy would befall Sandy Dumbrowski in Grease. “It’s Raining on Prom Night,” she notes, soon after she and Danny Zuko had reached an impasse. Equally despondent is little Ruby after Dick lets her down in Dames at Sea. It’s “Raining in My Heart,” sings Bernadette Peters in the role that put her on the theatrical map. Perhaps more miserable than both is Robert Clary when he sings “Raining Memories” in New Faces of 1952. To be fair, it IS meant as a parody of all those melodramatic woe-is-me songs. But all these people have no idea what real trouble is; the men who sing “Feel the Rain Fall” in Parade certainly do; they belong to a chain gang.
“Rain” is responsible for the highlight of Ti-Moune’s life in Once on This Island, for it causes Daniel, the man on whom she’s had her eye, to get into an accident and enter her life. Alas, it also leads to her greatest heartbreak and tragedy, but not before we hear some marvelous music from Stephen Flaherty and equally impressive lyrics from Lynn Ahrens.
Perhaps the most famous use of rain in any Broadway show song – you’ve already thought of it, haven’t you? – occurs in “The Rain in Spain” in My Fair Lady. For years, the show rained money for Columbia Records, where its original cast recording became the biggest-selling album of all-time. (NOT just in the show record category, mind you; in ALL categories.)
My Fair Lady was such a big hit that a Mexican cast album was released: Mi Bella Dama, all in Spanish. If you listen to that recording, however, you won’t hear exact Spanish translations for “rain,” “Spain,” “main(ly)” and “plain”; these four words don’t rhyme in that language, so translator Berta Maldonado had to use words that did. The title translates to “The King is in Madrid.” (By the way, one of Alfred P. Doolittle’s drinking buddies in that production was a just-starting-out Plácido Domingo.)
Of course, rain isn’t so bad if it later brings a certain meteorological phenomenon that introduces a band of color into our lives – the one noted in the title Finian’s Rainbow and celebrated in its first-act song “Look to the Rainbow.” But, as we all know, rainbows can be elusive; just ask Irene (in the musical named for her): “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows,” she sings to Harry Carroll’s melody — although Carroll himself would be the first to admit that he took a good deal of the tune from Chopin’s Fantaisie-Impromptu #3 in C-Sharp minor of Opus 66.
Painter Priam Farll has the benefit of getting a rainbow without even having to endure rain. He sings in the marvelous Jule Styne-E.Y. Harburg march in Darling of the Day, “I’ve Got a Rainbow Working for Me” – meaning all the colors he has on his palette and puts on his canvas. In Pal Joey, Gladys Bumps gets to sing all the colors that Lorenz Hart included in “That Terrific Rainbow.” En route, she describes her feelings for her young man in colorful language. (And when I say colorful language, I don’t mean it as a euphemism for profanity. I simply mean red, blue, purple, green, orange, white, gold and grey.)
But if you really want to have a rain fest during April, listen to two scores that deal with an inordinate amount of precipitation: Stephen Schwartz’s Children of Eden and Richard Rodgers and Martin Charnin’s Two by Two. The former’s second act tells of Noah and the Flood while both acts of the latter show deal with it. Of course, not every song deals with rain, but the shows shower us with melody.
And while we’re on a Richard Rodgers kick, let’s include the show he did right after Two by Two: Rex. Granted, in this bio-musical of Henry VIII, there’s no song about April or rain — but in 1509, the man did begin his reign in April.
Peter Filichia also writes a column each Monday, Wednesday and Friday at www.theatermania.com/peterfilichia;. His new book Broadway Musicals: The Biggest Hit & the Biggest Flop of the Season, 1959-2009 is now available through Applause Books and at www.amazon.com.