Monday, May 6, 2013

The 100 Greatest Broadway Songs - Part IV


SONG #94
"Brush Up Your Shakespeare"
from Kiss Me, Kate
Music & Lyrics by Cole Porter
sung by First & Second Man
By 1948, Cole Porter was considered old-fashioned and passed his prime.  The Rodgers & Hammerstein-styled book musicals that were ushered in with Oklahoma! made the sprightly comical musicals of the 1930s (of which Porter was a master!) very passé. He also was overwhelmed with several personal problems.  He had a major horse-riding accident that damaged his legs (on which he had several surgeries) and his loving wife, Linda Lee Porter, was dying of cancer.  But during all of this, he found the time to write the score for a Musical version of William Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew.  The show became an instant hit and won the very first Tony Award for Best Musical.  And in this show, Porter had one of his cleverest and most comical songs.  Porter was always a great wordsmith and adeptly showed off his Yale education with puns, rhymes and metaphors.  In "Brush Up Your Shakespeare," he has two Gangsters play with the titles and themes of some of Shakespeare's most famous works.  And the song is filled with Porter-esque humor (which has all the fun of seeming dirty without saying anything really dirty!).

SONG #93
from Damn Yankees
Music & Lyrics by Richard Adler & Jerry Ross
sung by Coach Van Buren & the Washington Senators
The hapless Washington Senators are always losing to the powerhouse New York Yankees and they are in need of a little pep talk.  In this George Abbot-directed smash Musical-Comedy, this song becomes an anthem for the team and for doing what you love.  Abbott was a fan of shows that had "hummable" tunes and "Heart" is one of the most "hummable" songs by the duo of Richard Adler & Jerry Ross, who had previously written George Abbott's other mid-1950s smash hit The Pajama Game.  But the song goes beyond just the characters, it becomes an anthem for the show.  A song that is sung during the final curtain call while the audience is on their feet singing along.  In other words, a "hummable" tune!

SONG #92
"It Only Takes a Moment"
from Hello, Dolly!
Music & Lyrics by Jerry Herman
sung by Cornelius Hackel & Irene Molloy
While this isn't the most famous or notable song to come from this show (that comes much later in this list!), it has always been an underrated and beloved ballad by Broadway insiders.  The reason it wasn't as well-known before was mainly because while it is a love song sung towards the end of the show, it is not sung by the leading characters but by the younger supporting couple in the Musical.  But for a long time, it was a favorite of cabaret singers and piano bars (it's a particular favorite of Michael Feinstein!).  However, it gained new fame back in 2009 when the folks at Pixar utilized the film version of this song (sung by Michael Crawford and Marianne McAndrew) as an integral part of the love story in their animated film WALL-E.  Composer-Lyricist Jerry Herman was "over the moon" that they asked to utilize his music and it helped this song (and therefore Hello, Dolly!) find a new audience.

SONG #91
"Magic To Do"
from Pippin
Music & Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
sung by The Leading Player & Company
Back when Stephen Schwartz was a college student at Carnegie Mellon University, he wrote his first Musical about the eldest son of Emperor Charlemagne titled Pippin Pippin.  When he graduated he tried to shop the score around New York to several producers, but no one was interested.  In the meantime, he was asked by a former college friend to write the score for a new Off-Broadway production called Godspell.  The show became a big hit Off-Broadway and suddenly producers became interested in more scores by Stephen Schwartz.  And his Pippin score had even grabbed the attention of director-choreographer Bob Fosse.  And Fosse had a completely new vision for Schwartz' (at-the-time) underdeveloped show.  They even created a new character called the Leading Player (specifically tailored to the talents of Fosse's friend Ben Vereen).  Fosse then asked Schwartz to come up with a catchy opening number that could grab the audience's attention.  And together, Fosse and Schwartz conceived "Magic To Do."  Schwartz provided a pop-influenced vamp and Fosse provided the showmanship.  It helped make the show an instant smash and one of the most influential Musicals of the 1970s.  Fosse's imprint on the show is still quite palpable that the current revival utilizes a lot of Fosse's original style (mixed with a bit of the circus!).

Tomorrow, I will reveal a handful more of the Best Broadway songs including the first of 7 songs with Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim (12, if you count the ones where he just did the Lyrics!).

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