Dave Chapin loves all of Rent except "Over the Moon." Mike Rhone always skips "More I Cannot Wish You" when he plays his Guys and Dolls disc. Chris Paz could live without the reprise of "Day by Day" when he sees Godspell.
All this was in response to Sally Parry's question to readers, "What songs would you drop from a show if you had the chance?" Or, to put it another way, "Which songs do you routinely skip when you're playing the cast album?"
I was surprised to see that most readers took issues with Rodgers and Hammerstein. Carousel may have been Richard Rodgers's favorite score, but many readers want it sheared of a song or two. Joe Meagor said, "I would drop 'Blow High, Blow Low.' It's a good and very enjoyable song, but it merely takes up time. Just have a short, all-spoken scene at this point. Going from Carrie and Enoch's duet to Billy's 'Soliloquy' drives home the contrast between the two couples."
Kevin Dawson said, "Carousel's 'Clambake' song should go. Of course, the apparent reason for the number is to describe a clambake for the benefit of us city slickers who may never have participated in such an event, but that would have been easily done with a line or two and some stage business. I always wonder why they're reminiscing about a clambake they're still on, waxing nostalgic about food they haven't had time to digest yet. It's true that, after a particularly satisfying meal, you may push back your chair and say something like 'Ah, that was great,' but you don't treat it as a fond memory: 'Remember how we raked those red-hot lobsters out of the driftwood fire?' Remember? It only happened maybe twenty minutes ago. I say, cut the 'Clambake' and put back 'The Highest Judge of All.'" But Braden Mechley asked, "Is Carousel Rodgers's greatest score? Quite possibly -- but removing 'The Highest Judge of All' only helps that assessment. This foursquare number doesn't deepen our sense of Billy, and it's a real musical comedown after 'You'll Never Walk Alone.'"
Jason Flum agreed with Dawson. "That ridiculous clambake song! One of the most brilliant scores of all time is bogged down by one of the most treacly second act openers of all time. It serves no purpose, and isn't even a good song, certainly not 'fit for an angel's choir.'" Alfonzo Tyson third-ed the motion: "'The vittles we 'et / Were good, you bet!?' UGH! Totally unnecessary song that's just filler for the start of the second act!"
That was just the start of the Rodgers and Hammerstein criticism. No surprise that Kevin Daly would have issues with Pipe Dream, specifically "Suzy Is a Good Thing," "Will You Marry Me?" and "Thinkin'." His not liking The Sound of Music's "An Ordinary Couple" ("'Something Good' is superior") was echoed by Gryffindor ("We'll probably never hear it sung in a major production again.") Steve Rosenthal felt "Love, Look Away" from Flower Drum Song is "a lovely song sung by a tangential, undeveloped character, thus stopping the show in its tracks. I hope they find a better way to include this song in the revival."
But Val Addams took on bigger R&H songs when he groused, "'Happy Talk' from South Pacific is Exhibit A for musical theater phobes. I'm embarrassed within a mile of it. 'Pore Jud' from Oklahoma! may make dramatic sense on stage, but it sure drags down the album." Others second-guessed Oklahoma!, like James Lockwood ("'It's a Scandal, It's a Outrage' is one of the weakest songs in the R&H canon and adds nothing to the show") and Laurie Zuccarelli-Melia ("'Lonely Room' is a horrible and boring song. The audience squirms in their seats before the first verse is done, reading their Playbills and not paying one bit of attention.")
Apparently these readers and plenty of others disagreed with Chris Van Ness's assessment that "Once you begin cutting songs, the relevance of the entire show comes into question." For Alfonso Tyson also damned "Fasten Your Seat Belts" from Applause ("Quite possibly the worst song from a Tony-winning musical"); "The Prince of Humbug" from Barnum ("Do we need ANOTHER song to establish Barnum's character?"); the title song of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes ("Quite possibly the only throwaway title song in musical history"); and "Annie" ("Whoops! Spoke too soon!")
Tyson finished with "When I'm Being Born Again" from On a Clear Day: "The only clinker in an otherwise fine score." He wasn't alone. Ed Glazier also wanted it out and Allen Neuner put it on what he called his "hit list" ("Not hit parade, mind you," he quickly added). He went on to nix "Four Jews in a Room Bitching" (March of the Falsettos), asking "What does this number do for the show (or the trilogy, for that matter) except tell you up front that all three male characters are Jewish and one, Whizzer, is half-Jewish?" Neuner continued: "Streisand could have kept in the full 'I'm the Greatest Star' [in Funny Girl] and rested her voice where 'Who Are You Now?' currently sits; the message would have been more powerfully sent without music. 'Unnecessary Town' (Li'l Abner) is, well, unnecessary -- beautiful, granted, but you just sit through it waiting for the show to continue."
Bob Manasco: "'Jeanette's Showbiz Number' from The Full Monty. I know I'm going to catch heat for this, but it really has nothing to do with anything else going on in the show. It's never made sense to me that, at the end the first act, the guys all learn to dance and somehow, during intermission, they all forgot?!? But the one I'd most of all drop is 'You Are My Home' (The Scarlet Pimpernel). They tried placing this in several different spots and just couldn't find a good place for it. That means it doesn't really have anything to accomplish, plot-wise or character-wise. I know Mr. Wildhorn feels it's his mission in life to merge the worlds of musical theatre and pop music, and I think that's a noble pursuit, but this is really a godawful number by either standard."
Dave Hudson condemned "As Long As He Needs Me" from Oliver! ("It truly stops the show -- in a bad way. What Nancy says would be accomplished with five seconds of dialogue and would inflict much less pain on the audience.") Doug Braverman tabbed "Tap Your Troubles Away" from Mack & Mabel. ("First, Jerry Herman begins running out of rhymes for 'tap' and goes for the cheap laugh with 'If a sky full of crap lands right in your lap' at the end of the number. Second, it really was out of place in the show. Mack and Mabel's relationship has fallen apart, and Mabel has become addicted to drugs. There is a feeling of tragedy and suddenly, in the midst of it, Lisa Kirk appears in a bright feathered headdress and starts singing a song about tap dancing. The number completely destroys the mood and was entirely unmotivated.")
Gryffindor: "'Rita's Tune' (Sweet Smell of Success). Nothing against the wonderful, radiant Stacy Logan, but what was the point of this number? Rita is perhaps an important enough character to have a number to herself, but if they were going to do so she should have been musically established earlier in the show. By the time the song appears, the machinations of the plot are so in motion that we just can't stop to groove on what she is thinking or feeling at that moment." Bill Weeden agreed. "Sweet Smell was unfairly treated in general, but I think would have fared better had the second-act flow not been brought to a screeching halt by the ultimate 'unearned' song. Rita had not been characterized enough to warrant a full-out solo."
David Burrows: "I was listening to 110 in the Shade this weekend and couldn't help saying, 'Boy, if they cut that 'Little Red Hat' song, I wouldn't miss it.' The song seems out of character with much of the show, and is one of those very obvious attempts to give the audience a funny song to break up two ballads ("Simple Little Things" and "Is It Really Me?"). But it isn't very funny, and I keep wanting to go back to the leads and watch their relationship develop."
Bob Schneider: "'Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat' from Funny Girl. But I have to admit the song is imprinted in my memory, and I think of it every time I'm riding a cab into Manhattan from JFK and pass a Rockaway sign."
Howard Rogut, our favorite Mary Martin fanatic, unequivocably stated: "In any Mary Martin vehicle, all the songs she didn't sing could have been dropped." So don't invite Howard Rogut and Joe Miller to the same party, for Miller wants to excise "Oh, My Mysterious Lady" from Peter Pan because "That coloratura singing by Mary Martin -- as well as she did it -- totally undermined the illusion (nebulous as it was) that this was supposed to be a little boy. Besides, this particular little boy would have no interest in disguising himself as a woman in the first place."
But the wisest comments came from John W. Griffin and Matthew Murray. Griffin said, "I always thought 'Sun on My Face' from Sugar had a wonderful Jule Styne tune but some of the dullest lyrics Bob Merrill ever wrote. And I said as much years ago to Jeff Hochhauser and Bob Johnston when we were talking about superfluous show tunes (shortly before the opening of their wonderful Theda Bara and the Frontier Rabbi). Jeff corrected me by saying it was merely an excuse for Gower Champion to stage one of the best numbers in the show. I hadn't seen Sugar and still haven't, but after that conversation, I no longer made judgments based on listening to the cast album alone."
Murray concluded, "I trust the original creative teams enough to leave in the numbers that work and excise the ones that don't. It should be what works best for the show. In most musicals, even if there's a song I find I'm not particularly fond of, if it serves a point, then I'm usually in favor of its inclusion. Most creative teams, especially for the so-called Golden Age of musicals, knew what they were doing and got what they wanted. And that's generally good enough for me!"
[To contact Peter Filichia directly, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org]