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Lerner & Loewe: The Lusty Month of May

In the immortal words of Alan Jay Lerner, “Tra la, it’s May, the lusty Month of May” as we start to see the gradual advance into warmer temperatures and those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer. Right after I open my eyes on May 1st and announce “Rabbit Rabbit” to the waiting physically distant world (anyone else?!), I have to cue up this tune. ‘Camelot’ has long been one of my favorite shows with Lerner’s lyrics that trip off the tongue and Frederick Loewe’s gorgeous, lush orchestrations that make me hanker for the days of the Golden Age 50-piece orchestras. (If you haven’t recently watched the Finale Ultimo from the film version with Richard Harris, I would highly recommend watching and subsequently weeping. Theatre therapy is real and potent stuff, folks.)

With sparkling vocals by the inimitable Queen, Dame Julie Andrews (or Vanessa Redgrave – pick your poison), it perfectly evokes that feeling of gaiety that has perhaps been lacking in our daily lives just this instant. All the more reason then to turn this on and romp ‘round the May Pole before our third mid-morning snack! 

Word nerd that I am, I have always been bowled over by the ease with which Lerner manages to meld highly intelligent rhyme scheme with that devilish cheek that is on parade in this fun, frivolous song. Just below are the lyrics for you to glimpse and crack a smile over. Because, after all, “It’s May, it’s May, the month of great dismay when all the world is brimming with fun, wholesome or un…” 

Thanks for indulging me with a whole week of sharing the music that bolsters my spirits, fills my heart, and makes this time of physical distancing just ever so slightly more bearable. I’ll see you back here tomorrow for a little bit more Golden and a whole lot more Berlin. 

Author’s note: As of today, NYFOS begins streaming of our first ever Virtual Gala, featuring performances from this past season and live performances from our friends and NYFOS alums all over the world. A donation of any amount will grant you access to this exclusive curated performance through the end of the month. Join us, won’t you please!

Tra la, it’s May, the lusty month of May
That lovely month when everyone goes blissfully astray
Tra la, it’s here, that shocking time of year
When tons of wicked little thoughts merrily appear
It’s May, it’s May, that gorgeous holiday
When every maiden prays that her lad will be a cad
It’s mad, it’s gay, a libelous display
Those dreary vows that everyone takes
Everyone breaks
Everyone makes divine mistakes
The lusty month of May

Whence this fragrance wafting through the air?
What sweet feelings does its scent transmute?
Whence this perfume floating everywhere?
Don’t you know it’s that dear forbidden fruit

Tra la la la la, that dear forbidden fruit, tra la la la la
Tra la la la la, tra la, tra la, tra la la la la la la la la la
It’s May, the lusty month of May
That darling month when everyone throws self-control away
It’s time to do a wretched thing or two
And try to make each precious day, one you’ll always rue
It’s May, it’s May, the month of yes you may
The time for every frivolous whim, proper or im-
It’s wild, it’s gay, a blot in every way
The birds and bees with all of their vast amorous past
Gaze at the human race aghast

The lusty month of may
Tra la, it’s May, the lusty month of May
That lovely month when everyone goes blissfully astray
Tra la, it’s here, that shocking time of year
When tons of wicked little thoughts merrily appear
It’s May, it’s May, the month of great dismay
When all the world is brimming with fun, wholesome or un-
It’s mad, it’s gay, a libelous display
Those dreary vows that everyone takes
Everyone breaks
Everyone makes divine mistakes
The lusty month of May

Alan Jay Lerner & André Previn: Fiasco

AND
Alan Jay Lerner & Frederick Loewe: A Snake in the Grass

Villain songs are fun to hear and to perform.  I suspect they are fun to write too.  These two—minor blips in a major career—have a delicious playfulness that I hope you’ll enjoy as much as I do.

“Fiasco” is from Coco (1969). The titular Coco Chanel was played by Katharine Hepburn. She was no singer, but her tremendous star power was ample compensation for Lerner and the fans who poured in to see her. René Auberjonois won a Tony Award for the supporting role of Sebastian, a flamboyant young designer trying to sabotage Chanel’s return from retirement. She catches on in time to present her new collection properly, but the curtain falls on Act One before she (or the audience) knows how it was received. Sebastian’s giddy schadenfreude opens Act Two.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QLpONi1_1Lg

“A Snake in the Grass” is from Lerner & Loewe’s last full score, a 1974 movie musical adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince. Loewe had retired after the stresses of Camelot and writing these songs a decade later was a very happy and creative reunion. (They had no control over how they were used and Lerner was furious about how the film turned out.) As the Little Prince tells the snake at the start of this clip, he’s left his home planet and has been traveling the universe to learn things. The snake (Bob Fosse in an over-the-top performance) offers a fast trip home: “how relaxed you can be, posthumously.”

I couldn’t find an online copy to include with this blog, but there is a CD with Lerner singing and Loewe playing all of The Little Prince.  The CD is worth the effort to find, because it’s the only recording of them together.  Lerner charmingly discusses and sings several of his biggest hits (and a dropped song from My Fair Lady) on the CD of his 1971 appearance in the 92 St Y’s Lyrics & Lyricists series. “Lyrics By Lerner” is a 1955 studio album where Lerner and Kaye Ballard sing to arrangements by Billy Taylor.

Lerner and Loewe: You Did It

If Alan Jay Lerner wrote nothing except My Fair Lady, he would have justly earned his place in Broadway’s pantheon. It was a magnificent artistic achievement and an enormous popular success— smashing all box office records. Among his other beloved Broadway and Hollywood musicals are Brigadoon, Gigi and Camelot, each giving decades of pleasure to audiences and performers.

A native New Yorker, Lerner grew up on Park Avenue, just a taxi ride from Broadway.  His father, an affluent retailer, loved musical theatre and took his young son to operettas, Gilbert & Sullivan, revues and jazz age romps. Soon enough, the boy aspired to write for the theatre. Lerner made his Broadway debut (with the lightweight and unsuccessful What’s Up) in 1943, the same year as Rodgers & Hammerstein’s game-changing Oklahoma!.

Lerner was an heir to the traditions of both Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein II.  He had a great gift for wordplay, but identified as a dramatist as much as a lyricist, responsible for every word and situation from curtain up to curtain down. He and his musical partners—he worked most often, and best, with Frederick Loewe; I’ll mention others later this week—wanted the plot, characterizations, words, music and dancing to cohere. Beyond that, Lerner understood human failings and loved his characters whatever their flaws.

I’ve chosen “You Did It” as today’s song because it is clever, well-crafted, understanding of both the men’s oblivious self-congratulations and Eliza’s exclusion, and really fun.

Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe: I Could Have Danced All Night

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.”

# # #

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.

 

Lerner and Loewe: On the Street Where You Live

I am a huge fan of Nancy Wilson. The timbre and versatility of her voice is incredible. I love the energy and spirit she brings to this incredibly unique version of this song. “On the Street Where You Live” from the musical My Fair Lady (with music by Frederick Loewe) was originally sung as a ballad by a man, but Nancy Wilson ups the tempo, adds some jazz, and makes it her own!

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