Perhaps you’ve heard that 2018 is the centennial year of a major musical theatre writer. But did you know that Leonard Bernstein was not the only Broadway legend born in August 1918?
This week I invite you to celebrate lyricist, librettist and screenwriter Alan Jay Lerner.
And what better way to start the festivities than the jubilant “I Could Have Danced All Night” from his 1956 masterwork My Fair Lady.
Though the words are quite simple, it was not easy to write. Before Lerner and Loewe hit on the perfect way to convey Eliza’s joy, and a hint of romance, they wrote other songs which they rejected for being too overtly about love.
Despite the pleasure the song gave to millions of listeners, Lerner had reservations. You’ll get a sense of his perfectionism and humor in the following. He said:
“I have a special loathing for lyrics in which the heart is metamorphosed and skips or leaps or jumps or ‘takes flight.’ I promised Fritz I would change it as soon as I could. As it turned out, I was never able to. In time it became far and away the most popular song Fritz and I have ever written. But to this day the lyric gives me cardiac arrest.”
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In this clip, Audra McDonald gives a radiant performance (with Seth Rudetsky at the piano).
On the repeat it turns into a singalong and then goes wild.
Earlier this week, I expressed my love for a repeated lyric that evolves throughout a song and takes on new meanings. One of my favorite examples of this is “I’ll Be Here” from Adam Gwon’s musical Ordinary Days.
I’m currently working on a Spanish adaptation of Ordinary Days in Buenos Aires, Argentina and previously directed the show in Paris. This song always pulls people in and brings them to tears- no matter what continent you’re on! Before knowing anything about the show, I saw Audra McDonald perform “I’ll Be Here” in a concert. I’ll never forget how powerful it was watching her get to the heart-wrenching climax of this story song, while maintaining a sense of hope in her eyes. This could have easily been written as a doom and gloom number, but Adam Gwon captures the resilience of a New Yorker with these lyrics.
“I’ll Be Here” from Ordinary Days
Music and Lyrics by Adam Gwon
As I grew I continued to explore musicals and contemporary music. When I was 13 I was introduced to classical music and auditioned for Juilliard Pre-College. Now in a completely new genre I tried to grasp the differences and I wanted to learn from someone who was a crossover artist. This is how I happened upon Audra McDonald. I became so interested in her career and I would continuously listen to the musicals she performed. She is still my idol. I still remember the day my mom called me in the middle of the day and told me I was finally seeing her live. Going to her concert was a life changing experience. I went through a full range of emotions that night. This song, “I’ll be Here”, grabbed my full attention and by the end I was in tears. I had never experienced one person being able to take you through an entire journey within a few minutes. This has to be my favorite song she sings.
“I Won’t Mind” is an incredibly moving song by actor and Tony-nominated composer, Jeff Blumenkrantz. I have always loved this song but developed an even closer connection to the piece when I met Jeff in our production of The Golden Apple at City Center Encores! We ended up performing this song together at my Feinstein’s/54 Below solo debut last August. What a special guy and what a special song.
“Sing for Your Supper”, a Rodgers and Hart trio from The Boys from Syracuse is irresistibly goofy, especially when it’s done so enthusiastically by world class singers. I couldn’t decide who did it better—the Broadway stars Rebecca Luker, Audra McDonald and Mary Testa or the opera legends Frederica von Stade, Marilyn Horne and Renee Fleming. The former is not the best sound in the world, but clearly, all of them were having a wonderful time. So, I have included them both and you get to choose. A lot of its glory comes from the vocal arrangement by Hugh Martin, who was also a composer. He deserves a credit. Eighty plus years after he wrote that arrangement, everyone still uses it.
In 1925, Kentucky explorer and caver Floyd Collins lost his footing at the end of an expedition. His left leg pinned underneath a 16-pound rock, Collins was trapped in a narrow tunnel, unable to move, and after 17 days (13 of which were without food or water) he left this earthly realm.
Composer and lyricist Adam Guettel imagines Collins’ last moments, his ideations of what the next life might be like in “How Glory Goes,” the gut-wrenching final song in the 1996 musical Floyd Collins. Audra McDonald sings the tune in here in a version that I deeply treasure.
What a voice, what a sentiment, what a song.
Audra McDonald has been a vocal and theatrical hero of mine since high school, when I swore I was going to be a music theater performer (I auditioned for more than one music theater undergrad program! Alas, my movement skills are slightly lacking…). I heard Ms. McDonald live in concert at a point in my life that felt very clearly like a fork in the road, and she set my heart right back toward our sacred art, toward music. I am truly in awe of her presence, instrument, ability, and grace.
Thank you for reading, dear NYFOS devotees! It’s been a pleasure being your guest blogger, and having the opportunity to share the contents of my song-loving heart.
Love and light to all of you! Until next time…!
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