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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.

Lynn Ahrens & Stephen Flaherty: In My Dreams

I have been trying to get out and go see more shows. I feel like I spend a lot of time in the 3 block radius of The Juilliard School  and I used to go to the theater more when I lived in New Jersey than I do now.

I recently saw Anastasia and this song was one of my favorites. As musicals are created there’s so much new music to explore. I love experiencing the new music live so I can get the entire emotional experience from it. When I saw this performed I instantly fell in love with this song. It helps the progress of the story line but out of context it still has some very relevant lyrics. “And my dreams seem to say- “Don’t be afraid to go on, don’t give up hope come what may” –  I know it all will come back one day”.

This has to be my favorite lyric in the entire song.

To close out this weeks journey of music that continues to impact my life I wanted to put this song because it’s current and relevant for anyone who is chasing after a dream. I’m still learning and growing through the arts and sometimes everyone needs the reminder to keep pushing forward.

Lin-Manuel Miranda: Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story

Given how much I love Lin-Manuel Miranda, I had to include another one of his amazing shows. Many people have heard about the musical Hamilton. Winning award after award, it’s an international phenomenon. It is definitely one of my favorite shows, even though I have not had the pleasure of  seeing it live yet. I think one of the most amazing things about Lin-Manuel Miranda’s music is that he always writes such poignant lyrics.

Lin-Manuel Miranda: When You’re Home

I saw In the Heights about 5 times when it was on Broadway. I love this duet and the role of Nina. At a young age I always felt connected to Nina. I was born in the Bronx and I moved to New Jersey when I was young but as I grew up I wondered how different things would have been if we never moved. Would I be more connected to my Latin heritage? Would I have gone to performing arts school? Would I be where I am today? In the end I love this song because though those questions exist it does show that you can go home and be welcomed back with open arms.

Lebo M. and Hans Zimmer: Shadowland

Anyone who creates art remembers the pivotal moments in their life that led them down this path or maybe that’s just me. I remember each stepping stone that launched me to the next stage and helped me become a better performer. I want to go through some songs, that helped shape the performer I am today. Many of them which I still listen to.

After a few years of watching ballet and musical theater  I believed in the idea that it was something you could only do when you were older until I went to see The Lion King. Finally getting to see The Lion King on Broadway was a dream that my mother and I had. When I got into the car after the show  I told my parents “I want to be that little girl who performed tonight.”  It was the first time that I saw a little boy and little girl that looked like me and they both were performing  on Broadway! My mom and dad said ok well you can do whatever you set your mind to, so that’s what I did. I looked for an open call for about a year and when the day came my dad stood on line and held my place at the Apollo theater. I missed my dance class for the first time in my life and my mom brought me to the audition. I remember being number 23 and they pointed at me to get me to sing.  It was the first time I ever sang in front of  someone. I got a callback and in a year I was performing my first role in a musical and I was on Broadway.

Though I never sang “Shadowland” it has always been a goal of mine to go back and play the role of adult Nala and sing this song.

Benj Pasek & Justin Paul: Waving through a Window

The one and only time I’ve ever enjoyed (let alone paid attention to) NYC taxi cab t.v. was I saw a clip of this song last December. “On the outside, always looking in, will I ever be more than I’ve always been?” As artists, we’ve all felt these feelings, to one degree or another.  If I could go back in time, and perform a role in musical theater, Evan Hansen would be my choice.

George and Ira Gershwin: The Half of It, Dearie, Blues

In this April 1926 recording (made in London for English Columbia), George Gershwin plays and Fred Astaire sings and taps.  To paraphrase the Passover Haggadah: if George Gershwin plays and Astaire sings and taps, dayenu.  It would have been enough.  But this recording contains a few bonus delights, as Gershwin interpolates licks from Rhapsody in Blue (written the same year as the song) and the men call out to each other.  Pure happiness.

Lady, Be Good! (1924)  was the first full score siblings Ira and George Gershwin wrote together and starred siblings Adele and Fred Astaire. Another first: This song was the first in which Fred Astaire danced a solo, rather than performing only as his sister’s dance partner or leading an ensemble. The song title may have been inspired by flamboyant female impersonator Bert Savoy, whose catch phrase, “You don’t know the half of it, dearie” became very popular in the late 1910s and early 1920s.  Savoy died in 1923.

Leonard Bernstein and Richard Wilbur: Make Our Garden Grow

I first encountered Candide in a college production that my high school’s Thespian Club attended.  It was exciting and irreverent and the “Make Our Garden Grow” finale had me walking on air.  I talked about the show so much that my mom bought me the double LP (1974 version with the red cover), which I played over and over in my bedroom. Thanks, Mom!

In the context of the story, any utopia is suspect, and the verdant domestic future Candide imagines in the finale is no exception.  As soon as the company has sung it into being, the bubble is burst.  “Ah me, the pox.”

But when the song is unlinked from the story, the audience is allowed to indulge in its lovely sincerity.  As Jamie Bernstein has written, “the soaring chorus seems to be telling us that growing our garden is a metaphor for the flowering of mankind itself.”   I especially love the moment when the orchestra drops out and everyone sings acapella.

I’ve chosen the performance from the PBS Broadcast of “Bernstein at 70,” a birthday concert at Tanglewood on August 25, 1988.  Seiji Ozawa leads Jerry Hadley and Dawn Upshaw. I hope you’ll enjoy seeing who is in the supporting ensemble in front of the orchestra.

“Make Our Garden Grow” from Candide (1956)
Lyric: Richard Wilbur
Music: Leonard Bernstein

If you’re grasping at names, here is the cast list from the BSO’s online archive. Is that Jamie and her siblings at the far left at 3:25?

The New York Times’ report on the event is here.

Stephen Sondheim: The Ladies Who Lunch

I can’t curate a week of Song of the Day posts without featuring my favorite composer, Stephen Sondheim, the musical theatre’s most prolific living writer. I suspect most of you know Sondheim and George Furth’s 1970 musical Company, but in case this song slipped off the playlist the last time you were at a Midtown sing-along piano bar I’ll provide a little context.

The show opens on Bobby’s 35th birthday. Happily single (at least he thinks so), Bobby is the
third-wheel in all of his best friends’ relationships and dallies in dating, though he doesn’t
understand why anyone would ever subject themselves to getting married. Towards the end of the musical, Joanne (originated by the legendary Elaine Stritch) sings “The Ladies Who Lunch,” a torch about all her friends and the fake facades in a socialite’s lifestyle. After the song, Joanne comes onto Bobby and reassures him “I will take care of you.” Bobby replies, “But who will I take of?” and this opens that gate stuck inside Bobby which finally allows him to be vulnerable (and sing one of Sondheim’s greatest anthems “Being Alive.” But that’s for another Song of the Day.)

Here we have Elaine Stritch singing her hit song “The Ladies Who Lunch.” I featured this video today because Stritch stripped herself of the antics required to fill a thousand-seat Broadway house and instead looks directly into the camera for her pointed delivery. This is one of the most visceral performances of the song and, simply, one of my very favorites.

Jason Robert Brown: Another Life

This is one of my favorite conventions in theater—the character who has one (showstopping) song. This song from Jason Robert Brown’s incredible score is sung by Whitney Bashor, who plays the ex of the leading man. She only appears for this moment, but lends so much depth and realism to his backstory. Bashor has a really gorgeous voice and I look forward to hearing more from her soon!

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