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Sunday, 17 June 2012

ELDER MUSIC: Musicals

PeterTibbles75x75This 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.


category_bug_eldermusic 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.

Leonard Bernstein

♫ Leonard Bernstein - Candide Overture

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.

Ezio Pinza

♫ Ezio Pinza - 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.

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.

♫ Jerry Orbach - 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.

Cameron Daddo and Michael Edward-Stevens

♫ Cameron Daddo and Michael Edward-Stevens - 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.

Mario Lanza

♫ Mario Lanza - 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.

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.

♫ Righteous Brothers - You'll Never Walk Alone

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.

Dan Sultan

♫ Dan Sultan - 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.

Tom Waits

♫ Tom Waits - 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.

Robert Preston

♫ Robert Preston - Ya Got Trouble

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.

Doris Day and Howard Keel

♫ Doris Day and Howard Keel - 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.


Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post

Comments

This speaks to your last sentence... there may be no better song written for a woman than "No Time at All" for Irene Ryan's character in "Pippin". I only wish there was video of her performance!

Thanks for the music, Mr Music. You are dead on: Good songs for a woman are rare in musicals.

Musicals are some of my favorite things....I'll keep this post to play again, thank you. :)

As for the gals, just off the top of my head, you might want to check out Kathryn Grayson (Showboat--"Make Believe"), Shirley Jones (right alongside Robert Preston in The Music Man--"Till There Was You").


Well, Peter, as usual your column was very entertaining today.

We certainly do agree on The Music Man! I loved that show and film. I was surprised that Hollywood didn't make the mistake they usually make and give the part Of Harold Hill to someone other than
Robert Preston.

I do think that there was one great song for a woman in that show.. "Til There Was You" was perfect for Shirley Jones and she did a terrific job with it.

The Beatles later recorded it for their album "Meet The Beatles" but it wasn't as good as when Marion Paroo sang it.

It was a treat to hear Mario Lanza as "The Student Prince"
too. Thanks!

Thanks for including Jerry Orbach. I have a soft spot for him.

The best songs from musicals are absolute classics, but of course there's a lot of dreck, too.

If you try you could remember some stellar songs to make a second (and third) column about musicals.

Great column, as usual. I hope you do more on musicals.

To me, the definitive version of "You'll Never Walk Alone" was by Roy Hamilton, who died much too young.

One thing that puzzles me, though: "spat the dummy" ... meaning???

@ Ajay,

I found this You Tube of Irene Ryan singing "No Time At All".

In case the link above doesn't work (I'm not good at that)just put YouTube in your search box and when it comes up put the title of the song and the artist and you will see her singing that song.

It's not a video of the original performance but it's fun anyway.

Deejay. This an Australian expression. It means to indulge in a sudden display of anger or frustration. The phrase is usually used of an adult, and the implication is that the outburst is childish, like a baby spitting out its dummy in a tantrum and refusing to be pacified. (a dummy is a pacifier)

Thanks Nancy - fun is the word!

Hi Peter - sorry you don't like musicals - I love them - brought up in an era when it seemed possible to burst into song at the drop of a hat! I love opera also but since it is so often steeped in tragedy I guess the musicals let me stay on the sunny side of the street - thanks for all your posts.

For the gals, I'll also go for "Showboat" but the song for me is "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man".

Thanks for the clarification, Peter. It sounds like "Spit out the dummy" is similar to the American expression "have a hissy fit."

Interesting the different tastes in music to which we're all exposed. I like some operas, including Carmen, Madame Butterfly, but don't particularly enjoy numerous others -- often find the singers may have spectacular voices, but their acting skills leave much to be desired. But then, with such spectacularly trained voices, perhaps expecting superb acting skills combined with what I experience as melodramatic stories is unrealistic.

Operattas I don't particularly enjoy. They were likely popular in their time, just as people will say in years to come the same thing about much of Rock music -- only the best will survive -- the rest will fade away as much of the pop music always does. Doesn't mean everybody will appreciate the surviving music in the same way as when it was originally performed -- the times will have changed. I think of operattas as being the equivalent of acting's melodramas -- popular in their day with all the exaggerated gesticulations and, to me, corny stories.

I think "South Pacific" reflected a particular time reflecting prevailing controversial attitudes. Introduction of the song "You Have To Be Taught" was significant given the racial situation in the U.S. and maybe Australia, too, with attitudes I've heard existed there toward the aborigine population.

"West Side Story" was similar in that regard. Leonard Bernstein and George Gershwin created spectacular music that will survive long after you and I are gone and most of these pop and country songs have disappeared, or are ridiculed by generations to come like we may tend to do toward these operettas, etc.

Some rock music lyrics reflect issues of when they're written, but that may change and the music may seem to be a bit old-fashioned -- what will future generations consider to be the issues of concern to them?

"Fantastiks" is a romantic fantasy into which some people enjoy escaping much as some like science fiction novels, or drug-induced visuals expressed in the lyrics of some rock music. Probably some jazz expression was influenced with select artists using drugs.

I personally like much of what is sometimes thought of as semi-classical music and disagree with you -- I think there are some significant differences in the various musical types you mention, just as there is music today that successfully crosses and mixes those types, but not all do.

An interesting question is what is it that prompts each of us to prefer the music we do and not experience pleasure from listening to other music. I know for me, there are multiple factors that enter into that equation, including the performer, instrumentation, arrangement to name a few items. Doesn't necessarily mean ones likes and dislikes are better than another, but sometimes we may have a tendency to discredit anothers preferences for the music which doesn't resonate or rock our souls for whatever the reasons.

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