Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The 100 Greatest Broadway Songs - Part XIV

SONG #21
"You're the Top"
from Anything Goes
Music & Lyrics by Cole Porter
sung by Reno Sweeney & Billy Lawlor
Now we have the highest ranking Cole Porter number.  This splendid and catchy duet between the leading characters of his show Anything Goes has become one of his most famous.  Porter had a great sense of wit and an adroit knowledge of what was considered "high class" (I mean, he was educated at Yale!).  In this song (the ultimate "list song"), the character of Reno Sweeney (originally played by Ethel Merman) is again trying to cheer up her friend Billy Lawlor by telling him how great he is (as she did in "I Get a Kick Out of You"); but Billy decides to tell Reno how wonderful she is and turns this song into a marvelously witty duet.

SONG #20
"Oh What a Beautiful Mornin'"
from Oklahoma!
Music by Richard Rodgers
Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
sung by Curly McLane
When Oscar Hammerstein II was trying to get the Theatre Guild to help him produce a Musical version of Lynn Riggs' play Green Grow the Lilacs, they wanted him to reunite with his Show Boat composer Jerome Kern who was not interested at all.  It just so happened that Richard Rodgers (of Rodgers and Hart fame) was looking for a new writing partner (Lorenz Hart was suffering medical problems from acute alcoholism).  Once Hammerstein interested Rodgers, the Theatre Guild became very intrigued by the new partnership.  And the first song they wrote was this glorious opening number for this groundbreaking Musical.  Rodgers reached a new plateau in is composition and Hammerstein (with his quaint lyrics and character-driven librettos) was mainly responsible for this.  With this song, it was like the dawn of a new era: for Hammerstein, for Rodgers and for the American Musical Theatre.

  • The above song is dedicated to the victims of the horrendous Tornadoes and storms that ripped through the state of Oklahoma and some of the Midwest.  Click here to find information on donating to relief efforts.

SONG #19
"If I Were a Rich Man"
from Fiddler On the Roof
Music by Jerry Bock
Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick
sung by Tevye
Sholem Alecheim's Tevye is "just a poor milkman."  But what makes Tevye so easy to relate to for an audience is that he, like all of us, has dreams and ambitions for his family.  This song in the Musical version of Aleichem's Tevye stories, lays out exactly what he wants out of life.  He wants to be rich (who doesn't?!?!?!).  The song became the signature centerpiece of the show, primarily because it was a "tour-de-force" for the actor playing Tevye (like original Broadway star Zero Mostel, above).  It even was covered (sort of) by Gwen Stefani when she adapted the song for use in her hit single "Rich Girl."

SONG #18
from Porgy and Bess
Music by George Gershwin
Lyrics by DuBose Heyward & Ira Gershwin
sung by Clara (later sung by Bess)
Of course the highest ranking Gershwin song would come from the masterpiece that is Porgy and Bess.  And this is probably the show's most recorded number of all-time.  It certainly became a favorite of jazz, opera, gospel, blues and country artists (Ella Fitzgerald, Renee Fleming, Kirk Franklin, Janis Joplin and Willie Nelson have all had successful recordings of this song!).  I think what makes this song so beautiful is because it is a mix of all those genres, which speaks to the genius of George Gershwin.  It's sung by a beautiful soprano (like Audra McDonald, above!) in a lullaby (almost gospel-like) style with that slight hint of a jazzy-bluesy wail (that famous blue note!) and quaint country-style lyrics (Heyward's southern style shining through!).  Every time I hear it (any version!), I discover new intricacies in Gershwin's brilliant musical signature.

SONG #17
from Cats
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by Trevor Nunn (based on poems by T.S. Eliot)
sung by Grizabella the Glamour Cat (with others)
When Andrew Lloyd Webber was working on his Musical adaptation of T.S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, everybody thought that he (along with director Trevor Nunn, choreographer Gillian Lynne and producer Cameron Mackintosh) was insane.  But the key to the show, according to the entire creative team, was the song that was to be the "11 o'clock number" and sung by the Glamour Cat, Grizabella.  Originally, Trevor Nunn had cast Dame Judi Dench in the role (believing her extremely strong acting ability would give the show enough credibility in the West End) until she tore her Achilles tendon during rehearsal.  So Lloyd Webber called upon his Evita star Elaine Paige to step in and a new melody was written to suit her fantastic voice.  One problem: there were no lyrics.  Previous Lloyd Webber lyricists (like Tim Rice, Don Black and Richard Stilgoe) had all tried to write an accompanying lyric, but none worked.  Then, T.S. Eliot's widow brought Lloyd Webber and Nunn a notebook filled with some of Eliot's poems and unfinished notes. Trevor Nunn took the notebook home and re-worked what he found into the beautiful lyrics to what became the signature number from one of the longest-running Musicals in Theatre history (Just listen to the glorious Betty Buckley above!).

SONG #16
"Some Enchanted Evening"
from South Pacific
Music by Richard Rodgers
Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
sung by Emille de Becque
When I was a kid, I played the Owl (?) in a school production of Snow White and my solo number was "Some Enchanted Forest" (Yeah...you just read that correctly!).  But to the surprise of none of my friends and family, I became obsessed with this song (and it probably fueled the obsession I already had for anything Rodgers and Hammerstein!).  Every time I hear this song, I am reminded at how romantic a Broadway Musical can be.  Phantom of the Opera director Harold Prince has pointed to this show as being one of the last great "unabashedly romantic" Musicals of the Golden Era.  And this song is the epitome of that unabashed romanticism.  Hammerstein's sentimental and poignant lyrics mixed with Rodgers' gloriously beautiful music make this song so powerful and moving that you just want it to carry you away (but not to an "Enchanted Forest!").

Tomorrow, a few more of the Great Broadway songs and as we head towards the Top 10: NO MORE HINTS!

No comments:

Post a Comment