Alan Jay Lerner & André Previn: Fiasco

Written by Amy Asch

Music Theater Historian

In category: Song of the Day

Published August 17, 2018

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.

“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.

author: Amy Asch

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Amy Asch is a long-time NYFOS subscriber who does research about Broadway songwriters, musicals and films for books, concerts and documentaries.  With Dominic McHugh she is co-editor of the recently published Complete Lyrics of Alan Jay Lerner (Oxford University Press).  She also compiled and annotated The Complete Lyrics of Oscar Hammerstein II (Knopf).  She has done projects for the 92nd St Y’s Lyrics & Lyricists series, the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization, the Library of Congress, and the estates of Irving Berlin and Jonathan Larson (Rent).

1 Comment

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    Only just came across this, would you know how/where to get sheet music for FIASCO? It’s a favorite song of mine, but pianists are fussy, they expect sheet music. It’s not in the Coco Vocal Selections, not in any Previn compilation I could find, and the Coco Vocal Score seems not to exist. Any assistance is appreciated! (I can trade the sheet music for SEVEN DEADLY VIRTUES, another fun villain song, not in Camelot Vocal Selections.)


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