I grew up on Long Island, forty-five minutes from Broadway (actually forty-nine) and my father commuted to the city and back on the Long Island Rail Road, five days a week, for 38 years. One night, he trudged wearily through the front door, tossed his briefcase aside, collapsed in a chair and said, “I’ve just added it up: I’ve spent three-and-a-half years of my life on the Long Island Rail Road.”
“The Enchanted Train” offers a far more uplifting portrait of that venerable conveyance, the local commuter train. This song is particularly dear to me because I hopped aboard its transcendent joys as part of my first journey with the New York Festival of Song. I had known of Steven Blier since he put together an exceptional concert of Ira Gershwin’s work with various composers for the Ira Gershwin centennial in 1996. Imagine my great pleasure when he asked me to collaborate with him on staging a concert of P.G. Wodehouse’s work as a lyricist, including songs with music by Jerome Kern from the early part of the 20th Century. Steve had assembled an impressive quartet of talent—no surprise, there—including the divine Sylvia McNair and the dashing Hal Cazalet, who also provided the initial octane for the concert concept.
We took the train—surprise!—to Washington, DC to perform “P.G.’s Other Profession” at the Library of Congress in 2000; then in several New York venues; and finally jetting to London’s prestigious Wigmore Hall, picking up different performing passengers along the way, including David Costabile, Christianne Tisdale, and Henry Goodman. Among all the delightful songs in this garland of genteel whimsy, “The Enchanted Train” (originally written for Sitting Pretty in 1924) is the one that—befitting a vehicle in transit—moves me the most. Listen to the effervescent anticipation that Sylvia and Hal bring to their incipient meeting at the train station after an arduous day’s work—one would think they were Hero and Leander. (One of my favorite bits of staging was when Hal would gleefully catch Sylvia’s eye—after being seated on two separate stools a concert stage apart—on the penultimate “I’m coming back!,” as if he had just stuck his head out of the train window. ) Enjoy Greg Utzig’s banjo stylings as they stream along the tracks. And, finally, revel in Steve Blier’s rambling and rumbling piano accompaniment; they capture every wheeze and whistle of the 5:41 local as it makes its eager way through the North Shore of Long Island to Port Washington.
I promise you, after listening to this song, you’ll never ride through Plandome the same way again.
[I’ve devoted an entire broadcast of my radio show, Broadway to Main Street, to “The Song is Kern,” which includes this song and many others by Jerome Kern. You can download the iTunes podcast here >]
“The Enchanted Train” (1924)
Jerome Kern, music
P.G. Wodehouse, words
[ed. note: If you don’t already have a Spotify account, you may need to create a free one to listen.]