Friday Favorites: Musical Theatre

Friday, October 19, 2012

Let's be frank, shall we? I love musicals. LOVE. Them. 

This love affair, or shall we say obsession, defines much of my identity. I attribute my affinity for musicals to two formative experiences. First, when I was eight-years-old, my parents took my sister and I to the musical Annie. We got all dressed up, had dinner on the town, and paraded down to the Capital Theater like septuagenarian season ticket holders. It was magic. After that I watched Annie every single week and started informing people I was adopted. Second, by some mystical power, I uncovered (or stole) a Barbara Streisand cassette tape (which likely belonged to my dad), around the same time. And since we all know Babs* is the gateway drug, I was hooked. I listened to The Broadway Album every night before I went to bed. I memorized every word and stanza. I belted tunes to my attentive imaginary audience. I was the underage diva long before it was cool. 

Funny thing is I can't remember anyone in my family ever watching musicals. They just weren't interested. But I watched. And I listened. Truthfully I couldn't help myself. I was addicted. In third grade, back when arts education was still taught in elementary schools, we learned the words and melody to the song Camelot.  For years I believed that halcyon place existed. Then, in seventh grade, I enrolled in a theater class. After that it was all over. We dissected My Fair Lady, memorizing extensive passages, and practicing ad-libbing. (Anyone that lived with me during this phase of my adolescence can testify  I might have obnoxiously sung theater songs ad nauseam. Just maybe.) Then came college.

As an eager freshman I enrolled in a musical theater class taught by a local legend. We learned about songwriters Victor Herbert and George M. Cohan (also known as the original Yankee Doodle Dandy boy) who pioneered the musical theater style; how musicals became less operatic and more mainstream (made possible by the controversial premiere of Show Boat in 1927); the rise of Broadway's revival in the 50s courtesy of Rodgers and Hammerstein's brilliance; how the infamous director/producer Harold Prince, who has more money than God, kept the theater scene alive; why Steven Sondheim, a modern genius, whose work dominated the stage during the 70s, 80s and early 90s, continues to be one of the most prolific artists to date. I spent long hours in the campus library watching VHS tapes of the musicals we studied. Some were filmed stage versions, most were movie adaptations and this was were my taste for musicals really solidified. Long before Wicked made show tunes pop-u-lar I was a dedicated aficionado.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, I offer you, in no particular order, a sampling of some of my most cherished songs from the sparkling world of musical theatre.

1. Fiddler on the Roof by Harnick and Bock. 
Favorite song**: Tevye's Dream 
A  poor Jewish family with five daughters adapts to changing religious and cultural traditions. Originally written in an attempt to show the true Jewish experience. 

2. Gypsy by Styne and Sondheim.
Favorite song: Some People
A zealous stage mother pulls out all the stops to get her two daughters into the limelight. Her plan backfires, however, when the youngest daughter turns her routine into a colorful striptease.  
(The Rosalind Russell version is my favorite.)
3. Into The Woods by Sondheim and Lapine. 
Favorite song: Agony
A hodge-podge of classic fairy tales mashed into one morally complex story. Featuring Sondheim's polyphony at its best.

4. The Sound of Music by Rodgers and Hammerstein II. 
Favorite song: Climb Ev'ry Mountain
Are we even friends if you haven't seen this movie? Bonus points for watching it with other tourists in an Austrian hostel. 

5. Sweeney Todd by Sondheim and Wheeler. 
Favorite song: A Little Priest
A demon barber with a twenty-year grudge collaborates with the doughty pie maker, Mrs. Lovett (originally played by Angela Lansbury), make up this dark musical thriller. Bonus points for premiering the year I was born. 

6. The Secret Garden by Norman and Simon. 
Favorite song: Lily's Eyes
A misshapen grief-stricken father and his crippled boy are brought together again by one  inquisitive little girl. Set, where else, but a secret garden. 

7. Yentl by Legrand and Bergman. 
Favorite song: A Piece of Sky
In an age where the world of study belonged only to men one woman disguises herself to pursue knowledge, learning about life and love along the way.
Film Clip 

8. My Fair Lady by Learner and Loewe.
Favorite song: On the Street Where You Live
A common flower girl is transformed by a refined gentleman linguist. 
Film Clip

*Regardless of how you feel about musicals or Ms. Streisand Yentl will change your life. Try it and see.  
**Choosing a favorite song is like choosing a favorite child. Impossible. 


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