This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.
I’m not a fan of musicals, most of them leave me cold. There are a few I like, however, and they will be featured today.
It’s interesting because I really like operas - perhaps, because they are so silly (but have great music). Musicals aren’t silly enough for my taste.
Of course, back when they were written, a lot of operas would probably have been considered musicals. Conversely, some musicals are lumped into the opera bag. I’m thinking specifically of Porgy and Bess but there are a couple of others as well.
It really means that the demarcation line between opera, comic opera, operetta and musicals is rather nebulous which is good for me as I can choose whatever I please. Each of those I’ve chosen I’ve seen, either on stage or as a film, with one exception which I’ll get to later.
I’ll start, as all good musicals do, with an overture – the Overture from Candide by LEONARD BERNSTEIN. I don’t know if Candide should be considered a musical or an opera or something in between, but I’m flexible so it’s included.
This is Lennie conducting the London Symphony Orchestra.
One musical I remember being taken to see as a whippersnapper by my folks is South Pacific. I remember enjoying it quite a bit even though I probably preferred rock & roll at that age. It still has charm although the original film made of it is a little problematic these days.
There was a remake not too long ago that was rather good too. However, I’m going with a song from the original film. Here we have EZIO PINZA with This Nearly Was Mine.
The Fantasticks is often considered the longest running musical in history. This is the one that I haven’t actually seen. However, I’ve read the synopsis of the plot on Wiki and it sounds silly enough to be an opera.
The show opened off-Broadway in 1960 and ran, uninterrupted, for 43 years. In that original version, the part of El Gallo was played by JERRY ORBACH.
All I knew of Jerry was his playing Lennie Briscoe on Law and Order. It was only when he died that I learnt that there was a lot more to his work than just playing hard-bitten detectives.
Here he is from the original soundtrack singing the most famous song from the musical, Try to Remember.
Big River is a musical based on Huckleberry Finn. It was written by Roger Miller, the country and novelty songwriter/singer. The version I saw here in Melbourne had the cream of Australia’s talent in it including a couple of fine rock singers.
It also had MICHAEL EDWARD-STEVENS who was imported to play the role of Jim. He liked it here so much he stayed for some years. Lordy, what a voice he has.
After hearing him live, I’ve found the CD doesn’t do him justice but it’s the best I can do. Here’s a duet with him and CAMERON DADDO who played Huck, River in the Rain.
The Student Prince is one of those in the nebulous region between opera and musical. Sigmund Romberg wrote the music and Dorothy Donnelly the words. It was based on a play by Wilhelm Meyer-Förster called Alt Heidelberg and opened on Broadway in 1924.
I remember the film from the fifties. I even had a record of the soundtrack. Indeed, I still have it but I’ve also updated to a CD copy as well. MARIO LANZA was supposed to play the lead but he fell into an argument with the director and spat the dummy.
Later another director came on board who was a friend of Mario’s but they’d already cast Edmund Purdom in the role. Mario sang the tunes though. This is Serenade.
Norma, the Assistant Musicologist, said that I had to have something from at least one of Oklahoma or Carousel, two very important musicals in the scheme of things. I guess she’s right. However, I can’t help myself.
I was checking all the songs from Carousel and noticed You’ll Never Walk Alone. I listened to the original soundtrack and thought it was nice. I knew that Gerry and the Pacemakers had a version. I tried that and thought it was okay too. Then I did a search through my music database and discovered the RIGHTEOUS BROTHERS.
One listen to that and I knew that had to be the one. Okay, it’s not strictly musical material, but the song is from one and one of the most famous at that. Here it is.
Bran Nue Dae is an Australian musical written in 1990, set in Broome, Western Australia, and is about stories and issues of the indigenous people of that region. It was written by Jimmy Chi.
There is also a film made in 2010 that was a huge success in this country. Its features included such interesting people as Ernie Dingo, Geoffrey Rush and Jessica Mauboy amongst others.
The film’s a bit uneven but is fresh and energetic and worth a look. One of the important roles is filled by the wonderful singer, DAN SULTAN. This is Dan with the song Nyul Nyul Girl.
The leads in the film of West Side Story didn’t actually sing, they had voice doubles, so I think I’m justified in throwing in a version of a song from that musical that may be a little unexpected. I’ll just say that this is TOM WAITS with Somewhere.
I really like The Music Man. I see it whenever it turns up on TV, which seems to be less often these days. This is from the 33 RPM Microgroove recording (that’s what it says) that I inherited from my folks of the original soundtrack from the Broadway version, not the film version with which I’m more familiar these days.
Here is the marvelous ROBERT PRESTON with (Ya Got) Trouble. I’m always amazed at the way he performs this.
I know actors learn plenty of lines but these are sung at rapid speed and it’s not a song, more a soliloquy, thus there are lots of words. I think my tongue would be tangled if I tried it. He does it even faster in the film version.
The most famous song from Calamity Jane is Secret Love. You won’t be hearing that one today. Even for a musical this one stretches credibility somewhat. DORIS DAY as Calamity Jane? I don’t know if you’ve seen a photo of the real Calam, but there’s a bit of a difference.
Nonetheless, it had some pretty good tunes. With hindsight there are some interesting readings of the film, the cross dressing, the gay resonances and the treatment of Native Americans. On that last score, the film wasn’t alone, of course.
Here Doris is joined by HOWARD KEEL who played Wild Bill Hickok with The Black Hills of Dakota.
One thing I’ve discovered with this exercise is that the best songs in musicals have been written for men, or maybe that’s only for the musicals I like.