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What a Bonus!

What a Bonus!

By Peter Filichia

Wasn’t that Anyone Can Whistle Encores! concert last week sensational? Yes, the book once again let us down — though you have to admire that Arthur Laurents went out on a limb and wrote in a style unlike any he’d tried before or since. But, oh, that Stephen Sondheim score!

Goddard Lieberson did many wonderful things during the 17 years he headed Columbia records. Having the company put up the entire $350,000 to produce My Fair Lady was probably his most extraordinary move. But right up there was his recording Anyone Can Whistle on Sunday, April 12, 1964, the morning after the show ended its nine-performance run.

Many of us in the old LP days wore out our vinyl listening to the cast album. So when the CD version was released, we were delighted to get a couple of bonuses: There was a bit more music in the “Cookie Chase,” and, much more importantly, we got star Lee Remick’s “There Won’t Be Trumpets.”

The song had been dropped before opening night. But Lieberson liked it and recorded it. While he didn’t put it on the record, he kept it in the vault. How remarkable, considering that Lieberson couldn’t have been aware that someday there would be such a thing as CDs and bonus tracks.

Granted, many cast album CDs offer bonus tracks, but they’re often songs that were recorded at a later time or place. Usually, they’re tacked on at the end of the recording, and while we’re glad to have them, they’re often anti-climactic.

Whoop-Up filled out its disc with 10 tracks, mostly pop singles that are even more unlistenable than the show’s embarrassingly cheesy score. The Grass Harp added a song that was clearly recorded at a different session, with instrumentation that bears no relationship to the other songs. One can even feel that the studio in which this add-on was recorded was a different place with markedly different acoustics.

But Lee Remick’s “There Won’t Be Trumpets” fits in beautifully with the songs that go before and come after it – literally, for it’s placed where it was originally in the show, and not at the end of the disc. Best of all, the listener clearly can tell that it was recorded at the same session with the same orchestra members.

A bonus track just as wonderful and valuable was added to the CD release of the 1971 revival cast album of No, No Nanette. Jack Gilford and Ruby Keeler, playing husband and wife, recalled their first meeting many years earlier, but one that still seems “Only a Moment Ago.” One felicitous lyric that Keeler sings in remembering when: “59th Street was in the sticks.”

Annie bonus tracks come from a backers’ audition, and feature five songs that would eventually be cut. They provide a fascinating look at the trial-and-error process that goes into the writing of a musical. To be frank, these five songs, recorded in front of an audience, get perfunctory applause; composer Charles Strouse and lyricist Martin Charnin were still a few feet away from hitting a bull’s eye. But then comes the sixth bonus track as Strouse and Charnin do “Tomorrow,” which would certainly NOT be cut. At song’s end, the audience applause is so much stronger that it almost says out loud, “Now THAT’S a good song!”

Some bonus tracks show ever-so-slight changes in the material. When Judy Holliday opened Bells Are Ringing at the Shubert in 1956, she told of how she was in love with the man whose phone number was Plaza-0-double-four, double three. But here’s composer Jule Styne singing a demo that proves the original phone number was Plaza 4-double-oh-double-three. In those days, “0” was never used as the third digit of a phone number, so lyricists Betty Comden and Adolph Green may well have chosen it to avoid a possible lawsuit from the phone number’s actual owner (who might well have been called night-and-day by curious musical theater enthusiasts). For all we know, “Plaza-0” could have been the forerunner to today’s “555.”

At the end of Fiddler on the Roof an evicted Anatevkan says, “Rabbi, we’ve been waiting for the Messiah to come all our lives. Wouldn’t this be a good time for him to come?” Originally Tevye stepped forward and sang “When Messiah Comes.” A bonus track – recorded when Sheldon Harnick, the show’s lyricist, performed it at an evening held in his honor at the 92nd Street Y — may tell us why the song was dropped.

Sang Harnick, “When Messiah Comes / He will say to us / ‘I apologize that I took so long.’” Harnick was just about to go on when the audience roared with such laughter that he had to stop and chuckle himself. And when he sang the Messiah’s next lines – “‘But I had a little trouble finding you / Over here a few and over there a few’” – again, the crowd roared. The audience would laugh some more – but there were times when it had to fall quiet, too, for the funny song abruptly turned serious. It did rebound with humor at the end, but this recording proved that an audience couldn’t be 100% sure of how to take the song. Was it out for laughs, or did it want to be genuinely reverential? Decide for yourself through Fiddler on the Roof’s Deluxe Collector’s Edition.

Bonus tracks can involve interviews (Galt MacDermot, Hair; Carol Channing, Hello, Dolly!) or pop orchestral cuts, such as “The Embassy Waltz” from My Fair Lady. The Sound of Music offers an ornate symphonic sound of its music. Tracks can range from a modest 28 seconds (the “Sleep-Tite” company anthem” in The Pajama Game) to a generous four minutes and nine seconds. (The Candide overture, conducted by its composer Leonard Bernstein, is apparently at a slightly slower tempo, given that it’s six seconds longer than the one that starts the original cast album.)

A bonus track can spring from a retrospective (E.Y. Harburg, Finian’s Rainbow), a studio recording (Woody Herman’s jazz rendition of “Brotherhood of Man,” How to Succeed in Business), a live concert (Patti LuPone, “As Long as He Needs Me,” Oliver!), a soundtrack (Elaine Tomkinson, “The Glamorous Life,” A Little Night Music) — or an original cast cut left off the original vinyl, such as Cyril Ritchard’s reprise of “Who Can I Turn To?” from The Roar of the Greasepaint – the Smell of the Crowd. Some cuts may mystify (Why would Ethel Merman be singing “Little Lamb”?), and some will enthrall (the Scherzo from West Side Story that Bernstein composed and conducted). But what do they all have in common? They have carefully taught us more about the musicals from which they came.

Peter Filichia writes every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for www.theatermania.com/peterfilichia